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History Resources

Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Era Fall 2008

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1 | Elections | Fall 2004

The Square Deal: Theodore Roosevelt and the Themes of Progressive Reform

By kirsten swinth.

Theodore Roosevelt giving a speech in Waterville, Maine, 1902. (GLC06449.22)

These economic and social crises stemmed from the rise of industrial capitalism, which had transformed America between the Civil War and 1900. By the turn of the century, American factories produced one-third of the world’s goods. Several factors made this achievement possible: unprecedented scale in manufacturing, technological innovation, a transportation revolution, ever-greater efficiency in production, the birth of the modern corporation, and the development of a host of new consumer products. Standard Oil, Nabisco, Kodak, General Electric, and Quaker Oats were among those companies and products to become familiar household words. Many negative consequences accompanied this change. Cities, polluted and overcrowded, became breeding grounds for diseases like typhoid and cholera. A new unskilled industrial laboring class, including a large pool of child labor, faced low wages, chronic unemployment, and on-the-job hazards. Business owners didn’t mark high voltage wires, locked fire doors, and allowed toxic fumes to be emitted in factories. It was cheaper for manufacturers to let workers be injured or die than to improve safety—so they often did. Farmers were at the mercy of railroad trusts, which set transport rates that squeezed already indebted rural residents. Economic growth occurred without regard to its costs to people, communities, or the environment.

Many were appalled. Even middle-class Americans became outraged as the gap widened between the working and middle ranks of society and wealthy capitalists smugly asserted their superiority. A new class of muckraking journalists fed this outrage with stunning exposés of business exploitation and corruption of government officials. Lincoln Steffens’s 1902 The Shame of the Cities , for example, demonstrated the graft dominating politics in American urban centers. To many, such a society violated America’s fundamental principles and promises. Progressivism grew out of that dismay and a desire to fix what many saw as a broken system.

Progressivism emerged in many different locations from 1890 to 1917, and had varied emphases. Sometimes it had a social justice emphasis with a focus on economic and social inequality. At other times an economic and political emphasis dominated, with primary interest in moderate regulation to curtail the excesses of Gilded Age capitalists and politicians. It was, in short, a movement that is very difficult to chart. Historians most conventionally trace its movement from local initiatives through to the state and national levels. But it is potentially more useful to think of progressivism as falling under three broad areas of reform: efforts to make government cleaner, less corrupt, and more democratic; attempts to ameliorate the effects of industrialization; and efforts to rein in corporate power.

Despite their anxieties about the problems in all three areas, progressives accepted the new modern order. They did not seek to turn back the clock, or to return to a world of smaller businesses and agrarian idealism. Nor, as a general rule, did they aim to dismantle big business. Rather, they wished to regulate industry and mitigate the effects of capitalism on behalf of the public good. To secure the public good, they looked to an expanded role for the government at the local, state, as well as national levels. Theodore Roosevelt declared in a 1910 speech that the government should be "the steward of the public welfare." Progressivism was a reform movement that, through a shifting alliance of activists, eased the most devastating effects of industrial capitalism on individuals and communities. Except in its most extreme wing, it did not repudiate big business, but used the power of the state to regulate its impact on society, politics, and the economy.

These progressive reformers came from diverse backgrounds, often working together in temporary alliances, or even at cross-purposes. Participants ranged from well-heeled men’s club members seeking to clean up government corruption to radical activists crusading against capitalism altogether. They swept up in their midst cadres of women, many of them among the first generation of female college graduates, but others came from the new ranks of young factory workers and shop girls. Immigrant leaders, urban political bosses, and union organizers were also all drawn into reform projects.

Still, some common ground existed among progressives. They generally believed strongly in the power of rational science and technical expertise. They put much store by the new modern social sciences of sociology and economics and believed that by applying technical expertise, solutions to urban and industrial problems could be found. Matching their faith in technocrats was their distrust for traditional party politicians. Interest groups became an important vehicle for progressive reform advocacy. Progressives also shared the belief that it was a government responsibility to address social problems and regulate the economy. They transformed American attitudes toward government, parting with the view that the state should be as small as possible, a view that gained prominence in the post–Civil War era. Twentieth-century understandings of the government as a necessary force mediating among diverse group interests developed in the Progressive era. Finally, progressives had in common an internationalist perspective, with reform ideas flowing freely across national borders.

To address the first major area—corrupt urban politics—some progressive reformers tried to undercut powerful political machines. "Good government" advocates sought to restructure municipal governments so that parties had little influence. The National Municipal League, which had Teddy Roosevelt among its founders, for example, supported election of at-large members of city councils so that council members could not be beholden to party machines. Ironically, such processes often resulted in less popular influence over government since it weakened machine politicians who were directly accountable to immigrant and working-class constituents. The good government movement attracted men of good standing in society, suspicious of the lower classes and immigrants, but angered by effects of business dominance of city governments. Other reforms, however, fostered broader democratic participation. Many states adopted the initiative (allowing popular initiation of legislation) and referendum (allowing popular vote on legislation) in these years, and in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution mandated the direct election of US Senators. Perhaps the most dramatic campaign for more democratic government was the woman suffrage movement which mobilized millions to campaign for women’s right to the franchise.

Ameliorating the effects of industrialization had at its heart a very effective women’s political network. At settlement houses, for example, black and white woman reformers, living in working-class, urban neighborhoods, provided day nurseries, kindergartens, health programs, employment services, and safe recreational activities. They also demanded new government accountability for sanitation services, for regulation of factory conditions and wages, for housing reform, and for abolishing child labor. Leaders like Jane Addams and Ida B. Wells-Barnett in Chicago as well as Lillian Wald in New York pioneered a role for city and state governments in securing the basic social welfare of citizens. This strand of progressive reform more broadly involved improving city services, like providing garbage pickup and sewage disposal. Some activists concentrated on tenement reform, such as New York’s 1901 Tenement House Act, which mandated better light, ventilation, and toilets. Laws protecting worker health and safety mobilized other reformers. Protective legislation to limit the hours worked by women, abolish child labor, and set minimum wages could be found across the country. Twenty-eight states passed laws to regulate women’s working hours and thirty-eight set new regulations of child labor in 1912 alone.

The second major area—the effort to rein in corporate power—had as its flagship one of the most famous pieces of legislation of the period: the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. The Act outlawed business combination "in restraint of trade or commerce." In addition to trust-busting, progressive reformers strengthened business regulation. Tighter control of the railroad industry set lower passenger and freight rates, for example. New federal regulatory bureaucracies, such as the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Reserve System, and the Federal Trade Commission, also limited business’s free hand. These progressive initiatives also included efforts to protect consumers from the kind of unsavory production processes revealed by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle . Somewhat unexpectedly, business leaders themselves sometimes supported such reform initiatives. Large meatpackers like Swift and Armour saw federal regulation as a means to undercut smaller competitors who would have a harder time meeting the new standards.

Among progressivism’s greatest champions was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had a genius for publicity, using the presidency as a "bully pulpit" to bring progressivism to the national stage. Roosevelt’s roots were in New York City and state government, where he served as state assemblyman, New York City police commissioner, and governor. As governor, he signaled his reformist sympathies by supporting civil service reform and a new tax on corporations. Republican Party elders found him so troublesome in the governor’s office that in 1900 they proposed him for the vice presidency, a sure-fire route to political insignificance. The assassination of William McKinley just months into his presidency, however, vaulted Roosevelt into national leadership of progressive reform.

Although Roosevelt was known as a trust buster, his ultimate goal was not the destruction of big business but its regulation. For Roosevelt the concentration of industry in ever fewer hands represented not just a threat to fair markets but also to democracy as wealthy industrialists consolidated power in their own hands. He turned to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to challenge business monopolies, bringing suit against the Northern Securities Company (a railroad trust) in 1902. The Justice Department initiated forty-two additional anti-trust cases during his presidency. During Roosevelt’s second term, regulating business became increasingly important. Roosevelt had always believed big business was an inevitable economic development; regulation was a means to level the playing field and provide the "square deal" to citizens, as Roosevelt had promised in his re-election campaign. He supported laws like the 1906 Hepburn Act, which regulated the railroads, and the same year’s Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection Acts, which controlled the drug and food industries.

Although not always successful in achieving his goals, Roosevelt brought to the federal government other progressive causes during his presidency, including support for workers’ rights to organize, eight-hour workdays for federal employees, workers’ compensation, and an income and inheritance tax on wealthy Americans. Under his leadership, conservation of the nation’s natural resources became a government mandate. He encouraged Congress to create several new national parks, set aside sixteen national monuments, and establish more than fifty wildlife preserves and refuges. Through the new Bureau of Fisheries and National Forest Service, Roosevelt emphasized efficient government management of resources, preventing rapacious use by private businesses and landowners.

After leaving the presidency in 1909, Roosevelt initially withdrew from politics. But his dismay at the slow pace of reform under his successor, William Howard Taft, prompted him to return for the 1912 election. When Republicans failed to nominate him, he broke with the party and formed the Progressive Party. He campaigned under the banner of a "New Nationalism." Its tenets united the themes of his leadership of progressivism: faith in a strong federal government, an activist presidency, balancing of public interest and corporate interest, and support for a roll-call of progressive reform causes, from woman suffrage and the eight-hour work day to abolishing child labor and greater corporate regulation.

While progressives guided the country down the path it would follow for much of the twentieth century toward regulation of the economy and government attention to social welfare, it also contained a strong streak of social control. This was the darker side of the movement. Progressive faith in expert leadership and government intervention could justify much that intruded heavily on the daily lives of individual citizens. The regulation of leisure activities is a good example. Commercial leisure—dance halls, movies, vaudeville performances, and amusement parks like Coney Island—appeared to many reformers to threaten public morality, particularly endangering young women. Opponents famously deemed Coney Island "Sodom by the Sea." Seeking to tame such activities, reformers, most of whom were middle class, promoted "Rules for Correct Dancing" (no "conspicuous display of hosiery"; no suggestive dance styles) and enacted a National Board of Censorship for movies. These rules largely targeted working-class and youth entertainments with an eye to regulating morality and behavior.

Eugenics also garnered the support of some progressive reformers. Eugenics was a scientific movement which believed that weaker or "bad" genes threatened the nation’s population. Eugenicists supported laws in the name of the rational protection of public health to compel sterilization of those with "bad" genes—typically focusing on those who were mentally ill or in jails, but also disproportionately affecting those who were not white. Any assessment of the progressive movement must grapple with this element of social control as reformers established new ways to regulate the daily lives of citizens, particularly those in the lower ranks of society, by empowering government to set rules for behavior. It was often middle-class reformers who made their values the standard for laws regulating all of society.

Progressive reform’s greatest failure was its acquiescence in the legal and violent disfranchisement of African Americans. Most progressive reformers failed to join African American leaders in their fight against lynching. Many endorsed efforts by southern progressives to enact literacy tests for voting and other laws in the name of good government that effectively denied black Americans the right to vote and entrenched Jim Crow segregation. By 1920, all southern states and nine states outside the South had enacted such laws.

Progressivism’s defining feature was its moderateness. Progressives carved out what historian James Kloppenberg describes as a "via media," a middle way between the laissez-faire capitalism dominant in the Gilded Age and the socialist reorganization many radicals of the period advocated. It was a movement of accommodation. Some regulation of business joined some protection of workers, but no dramatic overhaul of the distribution of wealth or control of the economy occurred. Instead, progressives bequeathed the twentieth century faith in an active government to moderate the effects of large-scale capitalism on citizens and communities. Government would secure the public claim to unadulterated food, safer workplaces, decent housing, and fair business practices, among many other things. Theodore Roosevelt epitomized progressive rebuke of the outrageous excesses of capitalists and their cronies, but also typified progressive accommodation of the new order. He opposed unregulated business, deemed monopolies antithetical, defended labor unions, supported consumer protections, and initiated government protection of natural resources. Yet he never believed we could turn away from the new economy and the transformation it had wrought in American society. The balancing act of reform and regulation that Roosevelt and other progressives pursued led the nation through the moment of crisis at the end of the nineteenth century and accommodated it to the modern industrial society of the twentieth century.

Kirsten Swinth is associate professor of history at Fordham University and the author of Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern American Art, 1870–1930 (2001).

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Course: US history   >   Unit 7

  • Introduction to the age of empire
  • The age of empire
  • The Spanish-American War
  • Imperialism
  • The Progressives

The Progressive Era

  • The presidency of Theodore Roosevelt
  • Progressivism

progressive era presidents essay

  • The period of US history from the 1890s to the 1920s is usually referred to as the Progressive Era , an era of intense social and political reform aimed at making progress toward a better society.
  • Progressive Era reformers sought to harness the power of the federal government to eliminate unethical and unfair business practices, reduce corruption, and counteract the negative social effects of industrialization.
  • During the Progressive Era, protections for workers and consumers were strengthened, and women finally achieved the right to vote.

The problems of industrialization

The ideology and politics of progressivism, the dark side of progressivism, what do you think.

  • For more, see H.W. Brands, The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890s (Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
  • For more on the Progressive movement, see Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • For more on Progressive ideology, see Shelton Stromquist, Reinventing “The People”: The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006).
  • See Walter Nugent, Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • For more on Wilson’s racial policies, see Eric S. Yellin, Racism in the Nation’s Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson’s America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).
  • Daniel J. Tichenor, Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002), 3-4.
  • For more on eugenics in the United States, see Paul A. Lombardo, A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).

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Theodore Roosevelt: Impact and Legacy

Theodore Roosevelt is widely regarded as the first modern President of the United States. The stature and influence that the office has today began to develop with TR. Throughout the second half of the 1800s, Congress had been the most powerful branch of government. And although the presidency began to amass more power during the 1880s, Roosevelt completed the transition to a strong, effective executive. He made the President, rather than the political parties or Congress, the center of American politics.

Roosevelt did this through the force of his personality and through aggressive executive action. He thought that the President had the right to use any and all powers unless they were specifically denied to him. He believed that as President, he had a unique relationship with and responsibility to the people, and therefore wanted to challenge prevailing notions of limited government and individualism; government, he maintained, should serve as an agent of reform for the people.

His presidency endowed the progressive movement with credibility, lending the prestige of the White House to welfare legislation, government regulation, and the conservation movement. The desire to make society more fair and equitable, with economic possibilities for all Americans, lay behind much of Roosevelt's program. The President also changed the government's relationship to big business. Prior to his presidency, the government had generally given the titans of industry carte blanche to accomplish their goals. Roosevelt believed that the government had the right and the responsibility to regulate big business so that its actions did not negatively affect the general public. However, he never fundamentally challenged the status of big business, believing that its existence marked a naturally occurring phase of the country's economic evolution.

Roosevelt also revolutionized foreign affairs, believing that the United States had a global responsibility and that a strong foreign policy served the country's national interest. He became involved in Latin America with little hesitation: he oversaw the Panama Canal negotiations to advocate for U.S. interests and intervened in Venezuela and Santo Domingo to preserve stability in the region. He also worked with Congress to strengthen the U.S. Navy, which he believed would deter potential enemies from targeting the country, and he applied his energies to negotiating peace agreements, working to balance power throughout the world.

Even after he left office, Roosevelt continued to work for his ideals. The Progressive Party's New Nationalism in 1912 launched a drive for protective federal regulation that looked forward to the progressive movements of the 1930s and the 1960s. Indeed, Roosevelt's progressive platform encompassed nearly every progressive ideal later enshrined in the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Fair Deal of Harry S. Truman, the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy, and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson.

In terms of presidential style, Roosevelt introduced "charisma" into the political equation. He had a strong rapport with the public and he understood how to use the media to shape public opinion. He was the first President whose election was based more on the individual than the political party. When people voted Republican in 1904, they were generally casting their vote for Roosevelt the man instead of for him as the standard-bearer of the Republican Party. The most popular President up to his time, Roosevelt used his enthusiasm to win votes, to shape issues, and to mold opinions. In the process, he changed the executive office forever.


Sidney Milkis

Professor of Politics University of Virginia

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Theodore roosevelt presidency page, theodore roosevelt essays, life in brief, life before the presidency, campaigns and elections, domestic affairs, foreign affairs, life after the presidency, family life, the american franchise, impact and legacy (current essay).

Progressive Presidents: Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson


The Progressive Era in American history, spanning roughly from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, was a period of significant social, political, and economic change. During this transformative time, a group of presidents emerged, each leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s history and paving the way for a more progressive America.

In this 3,000-word essay, we will delve into the roles and contributions of three influential leaders of this era: Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Each of these leaders brought their unique vision and policies to the forefront, shaping the course of the Progressive movement and the nation as a whole.

Theodore Roosevelt: The Trustbuster

As we explore the Progressive Era, we must first turn our attention to Theodore Roosevelt, a larger-than-life figure who ascended to the presidency in the wake of President William McKinley’s assassination in 1901. Roosevelt’s ascent to the highest office in the land marked a turning point in American politics.

Roosevelt, known for his boundless energy and strong-willed persona, embarked on a mission to confront the immense power held by corporate trusts and monopolies. His approach, often described as “trust-busting,” aimed to break the stranglehold that these monopolistic entities had on various industries.

During his presidency, Roosevelt championed antitrust legislation such as the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Hepburn Act, which aimed to curb the excessive influence of big business and promote fair competition. He was not afraid to take on corporate giants like Standard Oil and Northern Securities, earning him the nickname “Trustbuster-in-Chief.”

However, Roosevelt’s legacy extended beyond trust-busting. He was also a fervent advocate for conservation and environmental protection. Through initiatives like the establishment of national parks and monuments, he laid the groundwork for the modern environmental movement.

As we delve deeper into the Progressive era, we will examine Theodore Roosevelt’s policies, his impact on the Progressive movement, and the enduring legacy he left on the American political landscape.

William Howard Taft: The Era of Dollar Diplomacy

William Howard Taft, who succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as the 27th President of the United States in 1909, faced the formidable task of following in the footsteps of his dynamic predecessor. Taft’s presidency marked a continuation of the Progressive movement, albeit with a distinct emphasis on foreign policy and economic interests.

One of Taft’s notable policies was his approach to foreign affairs, famously known as “Dollar Diplomacy.” This foreign policy doctrine aimed to promote American economic interests abroad by using diplomatic means to support American businesses in foreign markets. In essence, it sought to replace “bullets with dollars” as a means of exerting influence.

Under Dollar Diplomacy, Taft’s administration encouraged American businesses to invest in Latin American and East Asian countries, particularly in industries such as infrastructure, mining, and banking. The idea was to strengthen economic ties with these nations and, in doing so, promote political stability and American influence in regions historically prone to instability.

While Dollar Diplomacy had its proponents who saw it as a pragmatic approach to international relations, it also faced criticism. Some argued that it amounted to economic imperialism , as it often prioritized the interests of American corporations over the sovereignty of foreign nations. Taft’s approach drew controversy and tensions in various parts of the world, including in countries like Nicaragua and China.

Despite the challenges and criticisms, William Howard Taft made significant contributions to the Progressive agenda. His administration continued to enforce antitrust laws, and he advocated for safety regulations in the workplace, a move aimed at protecting the rights and well-being of American workers.

As we delve deeper into Taft’s presidency, we will analyze the complexities of Dollar Diplomacy, the domestic policies of his administration, and his place in the broader context of the Progressive Era.

Woodrow Wilson: The Progressive Reformer

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, assumed office in 1913 with a vision of reform and a commitment to advancing the principles of the Progressive movement. His presidency marked a distinct phase in the evolution of progressivism, characterized by his “New Freedom” agenda and his transformative impact on domestic and foreign policy.

Wilson’s background as a former governor of New Jersey and a scholar of political science provided him with a unique perspective on governance. He believed in restoring economic competition and fairness, and he sought to break up monopolistic corporations, much like Roosevelt and Taft before him.

The centerpiece of Wilson’s domestic agenda was the implementation of the “New Freedom” platform, which aimed to promote small businesses, reduce the power of big corporations, and enhance individual economic liberty. Key legislative achievements during his presidency included the Federal Reserve Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, which aimed to regulate banks and curb anticompetitive practices, respectively.

Furthermore, Wilson’s commitment to social and labor reforms resulted in the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to monitor business practices and protect consumers. His presidency also saw the introduction of labor reforms, such as the Adamson Act, which established an eight-hour workday for railroad workers.

Woodrow Wilson’s progressive ideals extended to foreign policy as well. He advocated for a foreign policy based on moral principles and self-determination. Although initially reelected in 1916 with the campaign slogan “He Kept Us Out of War” regarding World War I, Wilson eventually led the United States into the conflict, believing it was a war to make the world “safe for democracy.”

As we examine Woodrow Wilson’s presidency in greater detail, we will delve into his domestic and foreign policies, the impact of the New Freedom agenda, and the legacy he left on the Progressive movement and the world stage.

Comparing the Progressive Presidents

As we explore the Progressive Era through the lenses of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, it becomes evident that each of these leaders made significant contributions to the Progressive movement, albeit with distinctive approaches and priorities. Comparing and contrasting their presidencies offers valuable insights into the diversity of progressive ideals and actions during this transformative period.

While all three presidents shared a commitment to addressing the excesses of big business and promoting fairness, they differed in their strategies. Roosevelt, often hailed as the “Trustbuster-in-Chief,” focused on antitrust legislation and conservation, aiming to tame corporate giants and protect natural resources. Taft, on the other hand, introduced the concept of “Dollar Diplomacy,” prioritizing economic interests in foreign policy. Wilson, with his New Freedom agenda, emphasized the importance of individual economic liberty and pushed for comprehensive domestic reforms.

Moreover, their foreign policies diverged significantly. Roosevelt was known for his active involvement in international affairs, exemplified by his mediation efforts in the Russo-Japanese War and his pursuit of a “big stick” diplomacy. Taft, through Dollar Diplomacy, aimed to exert American influence through economic means. Wilson, in contrast, initially focused on neutrality in international conflicts but eventually led the United States into World War I with a vision of promoting global democracy.

Despite these differences, there were also commonalities among the Progressive Presidents. All three recognized the need to address the challenges posed by monopolistic corporations, and each contributed to antitrust legislation in their own way. They shared a commitment to improving the lives of ordinary Americans through labor and social reforms, reflecting the broader ethos of progressivism.

Comparing these presidents allows us to appreciate the multifaceted nature of the Progressive movement and its evolving priorities. It highlights the complexities of leadership during a period of rapid change and the enduring impact of their policies on American society.

Legacy of the Progressive Presidents

The legacies of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson continue to shape American society and politics to this day. Collectively, they left an indelible mark on the Progressive movement and the nation as a whole.

Roosevelt’s legacy is perhaps most evident in the realm of conservation and environmental protection. His establishment of national parks and monuments laid the foundation for modern environmentalism. Additionally, his trust-busting policies paved the way for greater government regulation of business practices, a trend that would persist in the decades to come.

Taft’s legacy is closely tied to the concept of Dollar Diplomacy, which, although controversial, marked a shift in how the United States engaged with the world economically. It set a precedent for American economic involvement abroad, influencing future foreign policy decisions.

Woodrow Wilson’s legacy is notable for the enduring principles of his New Freedom agenda, including the creation of the Federal Reserve System and the protection of consumers through the FTC. His vision of self-determination and global democracy also played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s role on the international stage.

Furthermore, the Progressive Presidents left a lasting impact on the trajectory of American politics. Their commitment to addressing economic inequality, regulating corporate power, and improving the lives of ordinary citizens set a precedent for future generations of leaders and progressive movements. The foundations they laid in areas such as antitrust legislation, environmental conservation, and labor rights continue to influence policy discussions and reforms in the 21st century.

Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, as the Progressive Presidents of their time, navigated the complexities of a rapidly changing America. Each brought their unique approach to addressing the challenges of the era, leaving behind a legacy that continues to shape the nation’s politics and policies.

Roosevelt’s trust-busting efforts and conservation initiatives, Taft’s Dollar Diplomacy, and Wilson’s New Freedom agenda all played pivotal roles in advancing the ideals of the Progressive movement. While their methods and priorities differed, their collective impact on American society, both domestically and in the realm of foreign affairs, was profound.

As we reflect on the Progressive Era and the contributions of these Presidents, we must recognize that their legacy extends far beyond their time in office. Their commitment to social justice, economic fairness, and the well-being of the American people continue to inspire leaders and movements seeking to build a more equitable and progressive future for the United States.

Their stories remind us of the enduring power of leadership and the potential for positive change in even the most challenging of times. The Progressive Presidents of the early 20th century have left an enduring mark on American history, one that serves as a testament to the enduring spirit of progress and reform.

Class Notes – Theodore Roosevelt – Progressive President

The actions of the muckrakers and a newly active middle class were heard by the then Vice President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. When the President, a very conservative William McKinley was assassinated, Roosevelt became President. Roosevelt was the son of a wealthy old money family. He was involved in government from when he was very young. It was his belief that the wealthy had an obligation to serve. This led him to government service. He became the Assistant Secretary of War, left to form the Rough Riders and took them to Cuba where he fought in the famous battle of San Juan Hill during the taking of Cuba in the Spanish American War .

progressive era presidents essay

I. Theodore Roosevelt – Progressive

A. The “ Square Deal ” – Reforms – Increase in Federal Power, ended Laissez Faire. ( Result of Roosevelt’s belief in “Noblesse Oblige.” ) “Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense.”… “We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.””The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.” –New York State Fair, Syracuse September 7, 1903

1. Sherman Anti trust Act (Felt trusts should be judged on actions)

2. Mediated Coal Strike

3. Elkins Act (1903)

-Made it illegal for railroads and shippers to offer rate rebates. Railroad had to set rates. They couldn’t change w/out notice.

4. Hepburn Act (1906)

-Gave ICC the power to set maximum railroad rates.

5. Pure Food and Drug Act – Passed in 1906 and amended in 1911 to include a prohibition on misleading labeling.

6. Meat Inspection Act (1906)

7. Conservation

-Strengthening of Forest Bureau and created National Forest Service. -Creation of much national park land. -Appointment of Gifford Pinchot, professional conservationist to be in charge of national forests.

B. Roosevelt and William Howard Taft

1. Roosevelt did not run for a third term. 2. He was only in his mid fifties. 3. Stayed involved in politics. 4. Became dissatisfied with Taft and ran for a third term with a third party, the Progressive Party, which was later nicknamed the “Bull Moose Party.” Bull Moose Party–Nickname for the Progressive Party of 1912. The bull moose was the emblem for the party, based on Roosevelt’s boasting that he was “as strong as a bull moose.”

C. Election of 1912

progressive era presidents essay

1. Roosevelt runs for the Progressive Party a.k.a. The Bull Moose Party. 2. Republicans split and the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson won

Woodrow Wilson – Progressive President

When Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat won the election of 1912 he received only 42% of the vote. The Progressive candidates; Roosevelt, Taft and Debs totaled 58% of the vote. Clearly America still sought progressive change. Wilson, an educator and the son of a Presbyterian Minister, recognized this and embarked on a program to continue Progressive reform called the “New Freedom.”

progressive era presidents essay

I. Woodrow Wilson – The “ New Freedom ” reforms

A. Underwood Tariff of 1913 -First lowering of tariffs since the Civil War -Went against the protectionist lobby

B. Federal Trade Act (1914)

-Set up FTC or Federal Trade Commission to investigate and halt unfair and illegal business practices. The FTC could put a halt to these illegal business practices by issuing what is known as a “cease and desist order.”

C. Clayton Antitrust Act (1914)

-Declared certain businesses illegal (interlocking directorates, trusts, horizontal mergers) -Unions and the Grange were not subject to antitrust laws. This made unions legal! -Strikes, boycotts, picketing and the collection of strike benefit funds ruled legal

C. Creation of Federal Reserve System (1914)

– Federal Reserve Banks in 12 districts would print and coin money as well as set interest rates. In this way the “Fed,” as it was called, could control the money supply and effect the value of currency. The more money in circulation the lower the value and inflation went up. The less money in circulation the greater the value and this would lower inflation.

D. Federal Farm Loan Act set up Farm Loan Banks to support farmers.

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Article contents

Progressives and progressivism in an era of reform.

  • Maureen A. Flanagan Maureen A. Flanagan Department of Humanities, Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Published online: 05 August 2016

The decades from the 1890s into the 1920s produced reform movements in the United States that resulted in significant changes to the country’s social, political, cultural, and economic institutions. The impulse for reform emanated from a pervasive sense that the country’s democratic promise was failing. Political corruption seemed endemic at all levels of government. An unregulated capitalist industrial economy exploited workers and threatened to create a serious class divide, especially as the legal system protected the rights of business over labor. Mass urbanization was shifting the country from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial one characterized by poverty, disease, crime, and cultural clash. Rapid technological advancements brought new, and often frightening, changes into daily life that left many people feeling that they had little control over their lives. Movements for socialism, woman suffrage, and rights for African Americans, immigrants, and workers belied the rhetoric of the United States as a just and equal democratic society for all its members.

Responding to the challenges presented by these problems, and fearful that without substantial change the country might experience class upheaval, groups of Americans proposed undertaking significant reforms. Underlying all proposed reforms was a desire to bring more justice and equality into a society that seemed increasingly to lack these ideals. Yet there was no agreement among these groups about the exact threat that confronted the nation, the means to resolve problems, or how to implement reforms. Despite this lack of agreement, all so-called Progressive reformers were modernizers. They sought to make the country’s democratic promise a reality by confronting its flaws and seeking solutions. All Progressivisms were seeking a via media, a middle way between relying on older ideas of 19th-century liberal capitalism and the more radical proposals to reform society through either social democracy or socialism. Despite differences among Progressives, the types of Progressivisms put forth, and the successes and failures of Progressivism, this reform era raised into national discourse debates over the nature and meaning of democracy, how and for whom a democratic society should work, and what it meant to be a forward-looking society. It also led to the implementation of an activist state.

  • Progressives
  • Progressivisms
  • urbanization
  • immigration

The reform impulse of the decades from the 1890s into the 1920s did not erupt suddenly in the 1890s. Previous movements, such as the Mugwump faction of the Republican Party and the Knights of Labor, had challenged existing conditions in the 1870s and 1880s. Such earlier movements either tended to focus on the problems of a particular group or were too small to effect much change. The 1890s Populist Party’s concentration on agrarian issues did not easily resonate with the expanding urban population. The Populists lost their separate identity when the Democratic Party absorbed their agenda. The reform proposals of the Progressive era differed from those of these earlier protest movements. Progressives came from all strata of society. Progressivism aimed to implement comprehensive systemic reforms to change the direction of the country.

Political corruption, economic exploitation, mass migration and urbanization, rapid technological advancements, and social unrest challenged the rhetoric of the United States as a just and equal society. Now groups of Americans throughout the country proposed to reform the country’s political, social, cultural, and economic institutions in ways that they believed would address fundamental problems that had produced the inequities of American society.

Progressives did not seek to overturn capitalism. They sought to revitalize a democratic promise of justice and equality and to move the country into a modern Progressive future by eliminating or at least ameliorating capitalism’s worst excesses. They wanted to replace an individualistic, competitive society with a more cooperative, democratic one. They sought to bring a measure of social justice for all people, to eliminate political corruption, and to rebalance the relationship among business, labor, and consumers by introducing economic regulation. 1 Progressives turned to government to achieve these objectives and laid the foundation for an increasingly powerful state.

Social Justice Progressivism

Social justice Progressives wanted an activist state whose first priority was to provide for the common welfare. Jane Addams argued that real democracy must operate from a sense of social morality that would foster the greater good of all rather than protect those with wealth and power. 2 Social justice Progressivism confronted two problems to securing a democracy based on social morality. Several basic premises that currently structured the country had to be rethought, and social justice Progressivism was promoted largely by women who lacked official political power.

Legal Precedent or Social Realism

The existing legal system protected the rights of business and property over labor. 3 From 1893 , when Florence Kelley secured factory legislation mandating the eight-hour workday for women and teenagers and outlawing child labor in Illinois factories, social justice Progressives faced legal obstacles as business contested such legislation. In 1895 , the Supreme Court in Ritchie v. People ruled that such legislation violated the “freedom of contract” provision of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court confined the police power of the state to protecting immediate health and safety, not groups of people in industries. 4 Then, in the 1905 case Lochner v. New York , the Court declared that the state had no interest in regulating the hours of male bakers. To circumvent these rulings, Kelley, Josephine Goldmark, and Louis Brandeis contended that law should address social realities. The Brandeis brief to the Supreme Court in 1908 , in Muller v. Oregon , argued for upholding Oregon’s eight-hour law for women working in laundries because of the debilitating physical effects of such work. When the Court agreed, social justice Progressives hoped this would be the opening wedge to extend new rights to labor. The Muller v. Oregon ruling had a narrow gender basis. It declared that the state had an interest in protecting the reproductive capacities of women. Henceforth, male and female workers would be unequal under the law, limiting women’s economic opportunities across the decades, rather than shifting the legal landscape. Ruling on the basis of women’s reproductive capacities, the Court made women socially inferior to men in law and justified state-sponsored interference in women’s control of their bodies. 5

Role of the State to Protect and Foster

Women organized in voluntary groups worked to identify and attack the problems caused by mass urbanization. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs ( 1890 ) coordinated women’s activities throughout the country. Social justice Progressives lobbied municipal governments to enact new ordinances to ameliorate existing urban conditions of poverty, disease, and inequality. Chicago women secured the nation’s first juvenile court ( 1899 ). 6 Los Angeles women helped inaugurate a public health nursing program and secure pure milk regulations for their city. Women also secured municipal public baths in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities. Organized women in Philadelphia and Dallas were largely responsible for their cities implementing new clean water systems. Women set up pure milk stations to prevent infant diarrhea and organized infant welfare societies. 7

Social justice Progressives sought national legislation to protect consumers from the pernicious effects of industrial production outside of their immediate control. In 1905 , the General Federation of Women’s Clubs initiated a letter-writing campaign to pressure Congress to pass pure food legislation. Standard accounts of the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and pure milk ordinances generally credit male professionals with putting in place such reforms, but female social justice Progressives were instrumental in putting this issue before the country. 8

Social justice Progressives sought a ban on child labor and protections for children’s health and education. They argued that no society could progress if it allowed child labor. In 1912 they persuaded Congress to establish a federal Children’s Bureau to investigate conditions of children throughout the country. Julia Lathrop first headed the bureau, which was thenceforth dominated by women. Nonetheless, when Congress passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act ( 1916 ), banning interstate commerce in products made with child labor, a North Carolina man immediately sued, arguing that it deprived him of property in his son’s labor. The Supreme Court ( 1918 ) ruled the law unconstitutional because it violated state powers to regulate conditions of labor. A constitutional amendment banning child labor ( 1922 ) was attacked by manufacturers and conservative organizations protesting that it would give government power over children. Only four states ratified the amendment. 9

Woman suffrage was crucial for social justice Progressives as both a democratic right and because they believed it essential for their agenda. 10 When suffrage left elected officials uncertain about the power of women’s votes in 1921 , Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infant Welfare bill, which provided federal funds for maternal and infant health. The American Medical Association opposed the bill as a violation of its expertise. Businessmen and political leaders protested that the federal government should not interfere in health care and objected that it would raise taxes. Congress made Sheppard-Towner a “sunset” act to run for five years, after which it would decide whether to renew it. Congress temporarily extended it but ended the funding in 1929 , even though the country’s infant mortality rate exceeded that of six other industrial countries. The hostility of the male-dominated American Medical Association and the Public Health Service to Sheppard-Towner and to its administration by the Children’s Bureau, along with attacks against the social justice network of women’s organizations as a communist conspiracy to undermine American society, doomed the legislation. 11

New Practices of Democracy

Women established settlement houses, voluntary associations, day nurseries, and community, neighborhood, and social centers as venues in which to practice participatory democracy. These venues intended to bring people together to learn about one another and their needs, to provide assistance for those needing help, and to lobby their governments to provide social goods to people. This was not reform from the bottom; middle-class women almost always led these venues. Most of these efforts were also racially exclusive, but African American women established venues of their own. In Atlanta, Lugenia Hope, who had spent time at Chicago’s Hull House, established the Atlanta Neighborhood Union in 1908 to organize the city’s African American women on a neighborhood basis. Hope urged women to investigate the problems of their neighborhoods and bring their issues to the municipal government. 12

The National Consumers’ League (NCL, 1899 ) practiced participatory democracy on the national level. Arising from earlier working women’s societies and with Florence Kelley at its head, the NCL investigated working conditions and urged women to use their consumer-purchasing power to force manufacturers to institute new standards of production. The NCL assembled and published “white lists” of those manufacturers found to be practicing good employment standards and awarded a “white label” to factories complying with such standards. The NCL’s tactics were voluntary—boycotts were against the law—and they did not convince many manufacturers to change their practices. Even so, such tactics drew more women into the social justice movement, and the NCL’s continuous efforts were rewarded in New Deal legislation. 13

A group of working women and settlement-house residents formed the National Women’s Trade Union League (NWTUL, 1903 ) and organized local affiliates to work for unionization in female-dominated manufacturing. 14 Middle-class women walked the picket lines with striking garment workers and waitresses in New York and Chicago and helped secure concessions from manufacturers. The NWTUL forced an official investigation into the causes of New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire ( 1911 ), in which almost 150 workers, mainly young women, died. Members of the NWTUL were organizers for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. Despite these participatory venues, much literature on such movements emphasizes male initiatives and fails to appreciate gender differences. The public forums movement promoted by men, such as Charles Sprague Smith and Frederic Howe, was a top-down effort in which prominent speakers addressed pressing issues of the day to teach the “rank and file” how to practice democracy. 15 In Boston, Mary Parker Follett promoted participatory democracy through neighborhood centers organized and run by residents. Chicago women’s organizations fostered neighborhood centers as spaces for residents to gather and discuss neighborhood needs. 16

Suffrage did not provide the political power women had hoped for, but female social justice Progressives occupied key offices in the New Deal administration. They helped write national anti-child labor legislation, minimum wage and maximum hour laws, aid to dependent children, and elements of the Social Security Act. Such legislation at least partially fulfilled the social justice Progressive agenda that activist government provide social goods to protect daily life against the vagaries of the capitalist marketplace.

Political Progressivism

Political Progressivism was a structural-instrumental approach to reform the mechanisms and exercise of politics to break the hold of political parties. Its adherents sought a well-ordered government run by experts to undercut a political patronage system that favored trading votes for services. Political Progressives believed that such reforms would enhance democracy.

Mechanisms and Processes of Electoral Democracy

The Wisconsin Idea promoted by the state’s three-time governor Robert La Follette exemplified the political Progressives’ approach to reform. The plan advocated state-level reforms to electoral procedures. A key proposal of the Wisconsin Idea was to replace the existing party control of all nominations with a popular direct primary. Wisconsin became the first state to require the direct primary. The plan also proposed giving voters the power to initiate legislation, hold referenda on proposed legislation, and recall elected officials. Wisconsin voters adopted these proposals by 1911 , 17 although Oregon was the first state to adopt the initiative and referendum, in 1902 . 18

The political Progressives attacked a patronage politics that filled administrative offices with faithful party supporters, awarded service franchises to private business, and solicited bribes in return for contracts. Political Progressives proposed shifting to merit-based government by experts provided by theoretically nonpartisan appointed commissions or city managers systems that would apply businesslike expertise and fiscal efficiency to government. They proposed replacing city councils elected by districts (wards) with citywide at-large elections, creating strong mayor systems to undercut the machinations of city councils, and reducing the number of elective offices. They also sought new municipal charters and home-rule powers to give cities more control over their governing authority and taxing power. 19

Political Progressives were mainly men organized into new local civic federations, city clubs, municipal reform leagues, and municipal research bureaus and into new national groups such as the National Municipal League. They attended national conferences such as the National Conference on City Planning, discussing topics of concern to political Progressives. The National Municipal League formulated a model charter to reorganize municipal government predicated on home rule and argued that its proposals would provide good tools for democracy. 20

In general, only small cities such as Galveston, Texas, and Des Moines, Iowa, or new cities such as Phoenix, Arizona, where such political Progressives dominated elections, adopted the city-manager and commission governments. 21 Other cities elected reform mayors, such as Tom Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio, who placed the professional experts Frederic Howe and Edward W. Bemis into his administration. 22 Charter reform, home rule, and at-large election movements were more complicated in big cities. They failed in Chicago. 23 Boston switched to at-large elections, but the shift in mechanisms did lessen political party control. A new breed of politicians who appealed to interest group politics gained control rather than rule by experts. 24

Good Government by Experts

Focus on good government reform earned these men the rather pejorative nickname of “goo-goos.” These Progressives argued that only the technological expertise of professional engineers and professional bureaucrats could design rational and economically efficient ordinances for solving urban problems. When corporate interests challenged antipollution ordinances and increased government regulation as causing undue hardship for manufacturers, political Progressives countered with economic answers. Pollution was an economic problem: it caused the city to suffer economic waste and inefficiency, and it cost the city and its taxpayers money. 25 In Pittsburgh, the Mellon Institute Smoke Investigation marshaled scientific expertise to measure soot fall in the city and to calculate how costly smoke pollution might be to the city. 26 The Supreme Court in Northwestern Laundry v. Des Moines ( 1915 ) ruled that there were no valid constitutional objections to state power to regulate pollution. 27

The political Progressives’ cost-benefit approach to regulation clashed with the social justice idea that protecting the public health should decide pollution regulation. The Pittsburgh Ladies Health Protective Association argued that smoke pollution was a general health hazard. 28 The Chicago women’s Anti-Smoke League called smoke pollution a threat to daily life and common welfare, as coal soot fell on food and in homes and was breathed in by children. They demanded immediate strict antismoke ordinances and inspectors to vigorously inspect and enforce the ordinances. The league urged all city residents to monitor pollution in their neighborhoods. 29 The Baltimore Women’s Civic League made smoke abatement a principal target for improving living and working conditions. 30 The cost-benefit argument usually won out over the health-first one.

For political Progressives, good government also meant using professional expertise to plan city growth and reorder the urban built environment. They abandoned an earlier City Beautiful movement that focused on cultural and aesthetic beautification in favor of systematic planning by architects, engineers, and city planners to secure the economic development desired by business. 31 Daniel Burnham’s Chicago Plan ( 1909 ) was the work of a committee of men selected by the city’s Commercial Club. 32 Experts crafted new master plans to guarantee urban functionality and profitability through “creative destruction,” to build new transportation and communication networks, erect new grand civic buildings and spaces, and zone the city’s functions into distinct sectors. They proposed new street configurations to facilitate the movement of goods and people. 33 As the profession of urban planning developed, cities sought out planners such as Harland Bartholomew to formulate new master plans. 34

New York’s Mary Simkhovitch contested this approach and urged planning on the neighborhood level, with professionals consulting with the people. She stressed that no plan was good if it emphasized only economy. Simkhovitch and Florence Kelley organized the first National Conference on City Planning ( 1909 ) around the theme of planning for social needs. Simkhovitch was the only woman to address the gathering. All the male speakers emphasized planning for economic development. As architects, lawyers, and engineers, and new professional planners such as John Nolen and George Ford dominated the planning conferences, Simkhovitch and Kelley withdrew. 35

The democratic reform theories of Frederic Howe and Mary Parker Follett reflected competing ideas about political Progressivism and urban reform. Howe believed that democracy was a political mechanism that, if properly ordered and led by experts, would restore the city to the people. The key to achieving good government and democracy was municipal home rule. Once freed from state interference, his theoretical city republic would decide in the best interests of its residents, making city life orderly and thereby more democratic. 36 For Follett, democracy was embedded in social relations, and the city was the hope of democracy because it could be organized on the neighborhood level. There people would apply democracy collectively and create an orderly society. 37 Throughout the country, municipal political reform was driven primarily by groups of men. Women and their ideas were consistently pushed to the margins of political Progressivism. 38

Social Science Expertise

Social science expertise gave political Progressives a theoretical foundation for cautious proposals to create a more activist state. University of Wisconsin political economist Richard Ely; his former student John R. Commons; political scientist Charles McCarthy, who authored the Wisconsin Idea; and University of Michigan political economist Henry C. Adams, among others, filled the role of social science expert. Social scientists founded new disciplinary organizations, such as the American Economics Association. This association organized the American Association of Labor Legislation (AALL). Commons, University of Chicago sociology professor Charles R. Henderson, and Commons’ student John B. Andrews were prominent members. The AALL focused on workers’ health, compensation, and insurance, in contrast to the NCL emphasis on investigation and working conditions. 39 Frederic Howe, with a PhD in history and political science from Johns Hopkins, became a foremost theorist for municipal reform based on his social science theories. John Dewey promulgated new theories of democracy and education. Professional social scientists composed a tight circle of men who created a space between academia and government from which to advocate for reform. 40 They addressed each other, trained their students to follow their ideas, and rarely spoke to the larger public. 41

Sophonisba Breckinridge, Frances Kellor, Edith Abbott, and Katherine Davis were trained at the University of Chicago in political economy and sociology. Abbott briefly held an academic position at Wellesley, but she resigned to join the other women in applying her training to social research and social activism. Their expertise laid the foundation for the profession of social work. As grassroots activists, they worked with settlement house residents such as Jane Addams and Mary Simkhovitch, joined women’s voluntary organizations, investigated living and working conditions, and carved out careers in social welfare. 42

Male social scientists dismissed women’s expertise and eschewed grassroots work. 43 Breckinridge had earned a magna cum laude PhD in political science and economics, but she received no offers of an academic position, unlike her male colleagues. She was kept on at the university, but by 1920 the sociology department directed social sciences away from seeking practical solutions to everyday life that had linked scholarly inquiry with social responsibility. The female social scientists who had formed an intellectual core of the sociology department were put into a School of Social Services Administration and ultimately segregated into the division of social work. 44

Economic Progressivism

Economic Progressives identified unregulated corporate monopoly capitalism as a primary source of the country’s troubles. 45 They proposed a new regulatory state to mitigate the worst aspects of the system. Reforming the banking and currency systems, pursuing some measure of antitrust (antimonopoly) legislation, shifting from a largely laissez-faire economy, and moderately restructuring property relations would produce government in the public interest.

Antimonopoly Progressivism

Antimonopoly Progressivism required rethinking the relationship between business and government, introducing new legislation, and modifying a legal system that consistently sided with business. Congress and the presidency had to take leadership roles, but below them were Progressive groups such as the National Civic Federation, the NCL, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs pushing for significant policy change. These Progressives believed collusion between a small number of capitalist industrialists and politicians had badly damaged democracy. They especially feared that the system threatened to lead to class warfare.

The Interstate Commerce Act ( 1887 ) and the Sherman Antitrust Act ( 1890 ) began to consider the problems of unregulated laissez-faire capitalism and monopoly in restraint of trade. As president, Theodore Roosevelt ( 1901–1909 ) used congressional power to regulate commerce to attack corporate monopolistic restraint of trade. The Elkins Act ( 1903 ) gave Congress the power to regulate against predatory business practices; the Hepburn Act ( 1906 ) gave it authority to regulate railroad rates; the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act ( 1906 ) did the same for those industries. Roosevelt created the Department of Commerce and Labor ( 1903 ) to oversee interstate corporate practices and in 1906 empowered the Department of Agriculture to inspect and set standards in meat production, a move that led eventually to the Food and Drug Administration.

Presidential Progressivism

Roosevelt considered the president to be the guardian of the public welfare. His approach to conservation was a primary example of how he applied this belief. He agreed with the arguments of social scientists, professional organizations of engineers, and forestry bureau chief Gifford Pinchot that careful and efficient management and administration of natural resources was necessary to guarantee the country’s economic progress and preserve democratic opportunity. Roosevelt appointed a Public Lands Commission to manage public land in the West and appointed a National Conservation Commission to inventory the country’s resources so that sound business practices could be implemented. The commission’s three-volume report relied on scientific and social scientific methods to examine conservation issues. 46

William Howard Taft ( 1909–1913 ) refused to support further work by the Conservation Commission. He rejected new conservation proposals as violating congressional authority and possessing no legal standing. Taft’s administrative appointments, including Interior Secretary Richard Ballinger, favored opening public lands to more private development. Taft’s Progressivism was the more conservative Republican approach that focused on breaking up trusts because they were bad for business. 47 Taft sided with business when he signed the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act ( 1909 ), which kept high tariffs on many essential goods that Progressives wanted reduced to aid consumers and small manufacturers. 48

In 1912 , the Republican Party split between Roosevelt and Taft. Political, economic, and social justice Progressives, including Robert La Follette, Charles McCarthy, Jane Addams, Frances Kellor, and George Perkins, a partner at J. P. Morgan and Company, helped establish the Progressive Party. They nominated Roosevelt, who envisioned a platform of “New Nationalism,” which promised to govern in the public interest and provide economic prosperity as a basic foundation of democratic citizenship. 49 Addams was unhappy with Roosevelt’s economic emphasis, but she saw him as social Progressives’ best hope.

Woodrow Wilson and Roosevelt received two-thirds of the vote, while Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs secured 6 percent of the votes. The election results indicated that the general population supported a middle way between socialism and Taft’s big business Progressivism. Wilson’s ( 1913–1921 ) “New Freedom” platform promised to curb the power of big business and close the growing wealth gap. As senator, La Follette helped push through Wilson’s reform legislation. The Clayton Antitrust Act ( 1914 ), the Federal Trade Commission ( 1914 ), and the Federal Reserve Act ( 1913 ) each curbed the power of big business and regulated banking. The Sixteenth Amendment ( 1913 ) authorized the federal income tax. The Seventeenth Amendment ( 1913 ) provided for the direct election of state legislators, who had previously been appointed by state legislatures.

Trade Union Progressivism

Under Samuel Gompers, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) fought to secure collective bargaining rights for male trade unionists. The AFL rejected the AALL proposals for worker compensation and insurance and never supported national worker compensation laws, although local federations supported state-level legislation. 50 Gompers preferred working with businessmen and politicians to secure the right to collective bargaining, the eight-hour day, and a voice for labor in production. The AFL never tried to form a Labor Party but advocated putting a labor agenda into mainstream party politics. 51 The Clayton Antitrust Act, which acknowledged that unions had the right to peaceful and lawful actions, was a victory for trade union Progressivism. The act did not provide everything that Gompers had demanded. Only New Deal legislation would offer more extensive protections to unions.

Gompers and the AFL rejected the AALL’s ideas, fearing that a more activist government might extend to regulating the labor of women and children. The AFL wanted sufficient economic security for white male workers, to move women out of the labor force. 52 Other labor Progressives sought the same end. Louis Brandeis and Father John Ryan promoted the living wage as a right of citizenship for male workers. Ryan acknowledged that unmarried women workers were entitled to a living wage, but he wanted labor reform to secure a family wage so that men would marry and families would produce children. 53 Hostile to organizing women, Gompers forced NWTUL leader Margaret Dreier Robins off the executive board of the Chicago Federation of Labor. 54

Municipal Ownership

On the local level, economic Progressives sought a middle way between socialism and the AFL’s single-minded trade unionism. AFL affiliates and Progressive politicians such as Cleveland’s Tom Johnson favored a municipal democracy that gave voters new powers. Municipal ownership of public utilities such as street railways promised the working class a way to protect their labor through the ballot. 55 Such reform would also destroy the franchise system. In Los Angeles, labor and socialists crafted a labor/socialist ticket to challenge the business/party control of the city and enact municipal ownership. A socialist administration in Milwaukee appealed to class interests to support an agenda that included municipal ownership. In Chicago, socialist Josephine Kaneko argued that she did not see much difference between socialism and women’s Progressive agenda for reform to benefit the common welfare. 56 Despite such flirtations between labor and socialists, labor remained attached to the Democratic Party.

Some cities achieved a measure of municipal ownership. Most middle-class urban Progressives deemed municipal ownership too socialist. They favored state economic regulation, led by experts, rather than ownership to break the monopoly in public utilities. 57

International Progressivism

Progressivism fostered new international engagement. The economic imperative to secure supplies of raw materials for industrial production, a messianic approach of bringing cultural and racial civilization around the globe, and belief in an international Progressivism that focused on international cooperation all pushed Progressives to think globally.

Securing Economic Progress

Although he was generally against Progressivism, President William McKinley annexed Hawaii ( 1898 ), saying that the country needed it even more than it had needed California. 58 The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine ( 1904 ) declared that intervention in the Caribbean was necessary to secure economic stability and forestall foreign interference in the area. Progressive Herbert Croly believed that the country needed to forcibly pacify some areas in the world in order for the United States to establish an American international system. 59 The Progressive Party platform ( 1912 ) declared it imperative to the people’s welfare that the country expand its foreign commerce. Between 1898 and 1941 , the United States invaded Cuba, acquired the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, took possession of Puerto Rico, colonized the Philippines and several Pacific islands, encouraged Panama to rebel against Colombia so that the United States could build the Panama Canal, invaded Mexico to protect oil interests, and intervened in Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. To protect its possessions in the Pacific, Roosevelt’s Secretary of State Elihu Root finalized the Root-Takahira Agreement ( 1908 ), which acknowledged Japan’s control of Korea in return for its noninterference in the Philippines. American imperialism based on economic and financial desires became referred to as “Dollar Diplomacy.” 60

Mission of Civilization

Race, paternalism, and masculinity characterized elements of international Progressivism. Senator Albert Beveridge had supported Progressive proposals to abolish child labor and had favored regulating business and granting more rights to labor, but he viewed Filipinos as too backward to understand democracy and self-government. The United States was God’s chosen nation, with a divine mission to civilize the world; it should exercise its “spirit of progress” to organize the world. 61 William Jennings Bryan had previously been an anti-imperialist, but later, as Wilson’s secretary of state, he advocated intervening in Latin America to tutor backward people in self-government. 62 In speeches and writings, Roosevelt stressed that new international possessions required men to accept the strenuous life of responsibility for other people in order to maintain American domination of the world. 63 Social science likened Filipino men to children lacking the vigorous manhood necessary for self-government. 64 Beveridge contended that it was government’s responsibility to manufacture manhood. Empire could be the new frontier of white masculinity. 65 Roosevelt concluded a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” ( 1907 ) in which Japan agreed to stop issuing passports to Japanese laborers to immigrate to the United States.

Democracy and International Cooperation

A cadre of Progressives who had worked to extend their ideals into an international context did not welcome imperialism, dollar diplomacy, and war. 66 Addams rejected war as an anachronism that failed to produce a collective responsibility. La Follette rejoiced that failures in dollar diplomacy elevated humanity over property. Suffragists compared their lack of the vote to the plight of Filipinos. Belle Case La Follette opposed incursion into Mexico and denounced all militarism as driven by greed, suspicion, and love of power. 67

Many Progressives opposed war as an assault on an international collective humanity. Women organized peace marches and founded a Women’s Peace Party. Addams, Kelley, Frederic Howe, Lillian Wald of New York’s Henry Street Settlement, and Paul Kellogg, editor of the Progressive Survey , formed the American Union Against Militarism. 68 Addams, Simkhovitch, the sociologist Emily Greene Balch, and labor leader Leonora O’Reilly attended the International Women’s Peace Conference at The Hague in spring 1915 . Florence Kelley was denied a passport to travel. 69 The work of the American Red Cross in Europe during and after the war reflected the humanitarian collective impulse of Progressivism. 70

Entry into World War I, President Wilson’s assertion that it would make the world safe for democracy, and a growing xenophobia that demanded 100 percent loyalty produced a Progressive crisis. Addams remained firm against the war as antihumanitarian and was vilified for her pacifism. 71 La Follette voted against the declaration of war, charging that it was being promoted by business desires and that it was absurd to believe that it would make the world safe for democracy. He was accused of being pro-German, and Theodore Roosevelt said that he should be hung. 72 Labor leader Morris Hillquit and Florence Kelley formed the People’s Council of America to continue to pressure for peace. Under pressure to display patriotism, Progressive opposition to the war crumbled. Paul Kellogg declared that it was time to combat European militarism. The American Union Against Militarism dissolved. Herbert Croly’s New Republic urged the country to take a more active role in the war to create a new international league of peace and assume leadership of democratic nations. John Dewey proclaimed it a war of peoples, not armies, and stated that international reform would follow its conclusion. 73

Other Progressives comforted themselves that once the war was won, they could recommit to democratic agendas. Kelley, Grace Abbott, Josephine Goldmark, and Julia Lathrop helped organize the home front to maintain Progressive ideals. They monitored the condition of women workers, sat on the war department’s board controlling labor standards, and drafted insurance policies for military personnel. Suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt volunteered for the Women’s Advisory Committee of the Council of National Defense. Walter Lippmann worked on government projects. City planner John Nolen designed housing communities for war workers under the newly constituted United States Housing Corporation. 74

Suffragists protested the lack of democracy in the United States. As Wilson refused to support woman suffrage, members of the National Woman’s Party, led by Alice Paul, picketed the White House in protest. Picketers were arrested, Paul was put in solitary confinement in a psychiatric ward, and several women on a hunger strike were force-fed. Wilson capitulated to public outrage over the women’s treatment. The women were released, and Wilson urged passage of the suffrage amendment. 75 The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920 , but Progressives’ hopes that equal political rights would bring democratic equality were not fulfilled. The social justice Progressives split over whether to support the Equal Rights Amendment drawn up by the National Woman’s Party, fearing that it would negate the protective labor legislation they had achieved.

Racialized Progressivism

White Progressives failed to pursue racial equality. Most of them believed the country was not yet ready for such a cultural shift. Some of them believed in theories of racial inferiority. Southern Progressive figure Rebecca Latimer Felton defended racial lynching as a means to protect white women. 76 Other Progressives, such as Sophonisba Breckinridge, fought against racial exclusion policies and promoted interracial cooperation. 77 W. E. B. Du Bois and Addams helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ( 1909 ).

African American Progressivism

African Americans believed that Progressive ideology should lead inevitably to racial equality. Du Bois spoke at public forums. 78 He supported the social justice Progressives’ agenda, attending the 1912 Progressive Party convention. Du Bois proposed a racial equality plank for the party platform. Jane Addams helped write the plank. Theodore Roosevelt rejected it, preferring the gradualist policy of Booker T. Washington. Addams objected but mused that perhaps it was not yet time for such a bold move. Racial justice would follow logically from dedication to social justice. 79 Du Bois shifted his support to Woodrow Wilson, while Ida B. Wells-Barnett backed Taft. In 1916 , African American women founded Colored Women’s Hughes clubs to support the Republican nominee. Hughes had reluctantly backed woman suffrage, and African American women viewed suffrage as the means to protect the race. Nannie Helen Burroughs worked through the National Association of Colored Women ( 1896 ) and the National Baptist Convention, demanding suffrage for African American women because they would use it wisely, for the benefit of the race. Burroughs lived in Washington, DC, where she witnessed the segregationist policies of the Wilson administration. She castigated African American men for having voted for him in 1912 . 80 African American Progressives hoped that serving in the military and organizing on the home front during the war would result in equal citizenship when the war ended. Instead, African Americans were subjected to more prejudice and violence. Southern senators blocked the Dyer antilynching bill ( 1922 ).

Immigration Restriction

Anti-immigrant sentiment had been building in the country since passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act ( 1882 ). Several attempts to pass a literacy test bill for immigrants, supported by the Immigration Restriction League ( 1894 ), failed. The forty-one volumes of the Senate-appointed Dillingham Commission ( 1911 ) concluded that immigrants were heavily responsible for the country’s problems and advocated the literacy test. Frances Kellor believed that all immigrants could be Americanized. Randolph Bourne advocated immigration as the path to Americans becoming internationalists. The New Republic , however, feared that excessive immigration would overwhelm an activist state and prevent it from solving social problems. Lillian Wald, Frederic Howe, and other Progressives organized the National Committee for Constructive Immigration Legislation ( 1916 ) hoping to forestall more restrictive measures. In the midst of war fever, Congress passed a literacy test bill over Wilson’s veto ( 1917 ).

100-percent Americanism

Progressives such as Kellor, Wald, and Addams believed that incorporating immigrants into a broad American culture would create a Progressive modern society. Theodore Roosevelt promoted a racialized version of American society. As president, he secured new laws ( 1903 , 1907 ) to exclude certain classes of immigrants—paupers, the insane, prostitutes, and radicals who might pose a threat to American standards of labor—that he deemed incapable of becoming good Americans. He created the Bureau of Immigration to enforce these provisions. The 1907 Immigration Act also stripped citizenship from women who married noncitizens, a situation only reversed in 1922 . At Roosevelt’s behest, Congress tightened requirements for naturalization. Wartime fever and the 1919 Red Scare intensified the search for 100 percent Americanism and undermined the alternative Progressive ideal of a cooperative Americanism. 81

Progressivism beyond the Progressive Era

The democratizing ideals of the Progressive era lived beyond the time period. A regulatory state to eliminate the worst effects of capitalism was created, as most Americans accepted that the federal state had to take on more social responsibility. After ratification of the suffrage amendment, the National American Woman Suffrage Association reconstituted as the National League of Women Voters ( 1920 ) to continue promoting an informed, democratic electorate. The New Deal implemented a substantial social justice Progressive agenda, with the NCL, the Children’s Bureau, and many women who had formed the earlier era’s agenda writing the legislation banning child labor, fostering new labor standards that included minimum wage and maximum hours, and mandating social security for the elderly. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs focused on environmental protection as a democratic right. A women’s joint congressional committee formed to continue pressing for social justice legislation. The National Association of Colored Women joined the committee.

Progressives can be legitimately criticized for not undertaking a more radical restructuring of American society. Some of them can be criticized for believing that they possessed the best vision for a modern, Progressive future. They can be faulted for not promoting racial equality or a new internationalism that might bring about global peace rather than war. Nonetheless, they never intended to undermine capitalism, so they could never truly embrace socialism. In the context of a society that continued to exalt individualism and suspect government interference and working within their own notions of democracy, they accomplished significant changes in American government and society. 82

Discussion of the Literature

The muckraking authors and journalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries highlighted rapacious capitalism and characterized its wealthy beneficiaries as corrupting the country. In their exposés of the relationship between business and politics, Ida M. Tarbell, Frank Norris, and Upton Sinclair accused politicians of a corrupt bargain in pursuit of their own economic interests against the interests of the people. 83 Drawing upon these investigative writings, early analyses of Progressivism from Benjamin De Witt and Charles and Mary Beard interpreted Progressivism as a dualistic class struggle. On one side were wealthy and privileged special interests seeking to promote themselves at the expense of everyone else. On the other side was a broad public seeking to restore dignity and opportunity to the common people. 84

By the early 1950s, George Mowry and Richard Hofstadter contended that Progressivism was a movement of an older, professional, middle class seeking to reclaim its status, deference, and power, which had been usurped by a new corporate elite and a corrupt political class. 85 In the early 1960s, Samuel Hays argued that rather than being the product of a status revolution, Progressivism was the work of an urban upper class of new and younger leading Republican business and professional men. 86 Robert Wiebe shifted the analysis to describe a broader middle-class Progressivism of new professional men who wished to reorder society by applying bureaucratic and business-oriented skills to political and economic institutions. 87 In Wiebe’s organizational thesis, Progressives were modernizers with a structural-instrumentalist agenda. They rejected reliance on older values and cultural norms to order society and sought to create a modern reordered society with political and economic institutions run by men qualified to apply fiscal expertise, businesslike efficiency, and modern scientific expertise to solve problems and save democracy. 88 The emerging academic disciplines in the social sciences of economics, political economy and political science, and pragmatic education supplied the theoretical bases for this middle-class expert Progressivism. 89 Gabriel Kolko countered such analyses, arguing that Progressivism was a conservative movement promoted by business to protect itself. 90

Professional men and their organizations kept copious records from which scholars could draw this interpretation. By the late 1960s, scholars began to examine the role of other groups in reform movements, ask different questions, and utilize different sources. John Buenker called Progressivism a pluralistic effort, an ethnocultural struggle based on religious values in which urban immigrants and their democratic politicians resisted the old-stock Protestant elites whose Progressive agenda they believed was aimed at homogenizing American culture through policies such as Prohibition and immigration restriction. Ethnic groups were not anti-Progressive but promoted a new Progressive agenda of economic regulation and rights for labor. 91 In the face of conflicting interpretations, Peter Filene questioned whether there indeed was a Progressive movement. Daniel T. Rodgers posited that Progressivism could best be understood as a shift from party politics to interest groups politics. 92

In the last decades of the 20th century, historians began to distance themselves from the very notions of Progressivism. They criticized Progressivism as the ultimate end of a middle-class search for social control of the masses, or they focused on its class dimension. 93 Recent literature has reconsidered the meaning of the Progressive era. Revisiting his early 1980s essay, Daniel T. Rodgers proposed that the big picture of Progressivism was a reaction to the capitalist transformation of society. Robert D. Johnston saw a revived debate concerning the democratic nature of Progressivism and its connections to the present. 94 A recent book by Robyn Muncy takes another look at the emphasis on Progressivism as a social struggle through the biography of Colorado reformer Josephine Roche and her focus on creating social welfare reforms. 95

Primary Sources

There is a wealth of accessible primary source material on Progressives and Progressivism. Many of these documents can now be found through electronic sources such as HathiTrust,, and Google Books.

Consult any of the writings of Jane Addams, Louis Brandeis, John R. Commons, Herbert Croly, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary Parker Follett, Frederic Howe, Florence Kelley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Muckrakers Lincoln Steffens , in The Shame of the Cities (1904) ; Jacob Riis , in How the Other Half Lives: Among the Tenements of New York (1890) ; and Upton Sinclair , in The Jungle (1906) , expose urban political corruption and social conditions. Ida M. Tarbell , in The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904) ; and Frank Norris , in Octopus: A Story of California (1901) , expose business practices. The residents of Hull House published an investigative survey of living conditions in their neighborhood in Hull House Maps and Papers: A Presentation of Nationalities and Wages in a Congested District of Chicago, Together with Comments and Essays on Problems Growing out of Social Conditions ( 1895 ). Useful autobiographies are Tom Johnson , My Story (New York: B. W. Heubsch, 1913) ; Louise DeKoven Bowen , Growing Up with a City (New York: Macmillan, 1926) ; Jane Addams , Twenty Years at Hull House (New York: Macmillan, 1910) ; Ida B. Wells-Barnett , Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida. B. Wells , edited by Alfreda Duster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

Manuscript collections for national and local organizations and individuals include those of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, National Association of Colored Women, Ellen Gates Starr, Women’s City Club of New York, Sophonisba Breckinridge, National Women’s Trade Union League, National Consumers League, and Theodore Roosevelt. Publications of Progressive groups and organizations include Woman Citizen’s Library , Survey , Charities and Commons , New Republic , and National Municipal Review . Investigative reports include the six volumes of the the Pittsburgh Survey ( 1909–1914 ) and Reports of the Immigration Commission (Dillingham Commission), in forty-one volumes ( 1911 ).

Proceedings of organization conferences include those of the National Conferences on City Planning and Congestion, National Conferences on City Planning, International Conference on Women Workers to Promote Peace, and American Federation of Labor. Supreme Court rulings include Ritchie v. People ( 1895 ), Plessy v. Ferguson ( 1896 ), Holden v. Hardy ( 1898 ), Lochner v. New York ( 1905 ), and Muller v. Oregon ( 1908 ).

Links to Digital Materials

Cornell university, ilr school, kheel center.

1911 Triangle Fire .

The History Place

Lewis Hines photos of child labor .

Library of Congress

Child labor collection .

World War I posters .

The National American Woman Suffrage Association .

The National Woman’s Party and protesters .

Theodore Roosevelt .

The Conservation Movement .

University of Illinois Chicago, Special Collections

Settlement houses in Chicago .

Harvard University Library Open Collections Program

Immigration to the United States, 1789‐1930 .

Further Reading

  • Connolly, James J. The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900–1925 . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Dawley, Alan . Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Flanagan, Maureen A. Seeing with Their Hearts: Chicago Women and the Vision of the Good City, 1871–1933 . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.
  • Flanagan, Maureen A. America Reformed: Progressives and Progressivisms, 1890s–1920s . New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Greene, Julie . The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal . New York: Penguin, 2009.
  • Hofstadter, Richard . The Age of Reform . New York: Vintage Books, 1955.
  • Keller, Morton . Regulating a New Economy: Public Policy and Economic Change in America, 1900–1933 . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Knight, Louise W. Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Mattson, Kevin . Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era . University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.
  • McGerr, Michael . A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920 . New York: Free Press, 2003.
  • Muncy, Robyn . Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 . New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Muncy, Robyn . Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.
  • Piott, Steven L. American Reformers, 1870–1920: Progressives in Word and Deed . Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.
  • Rodgers, Daniel T. Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Salyer, Lucy . Laws Harsh As Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
  • Schechter, Patricia A. Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880–1930 . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  • Sklar, Martin J. The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890–1916 . Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Unger, Nancy . Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer . Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
  • Wiebe, Robert H. The Search for Order, 1877–1920 . New York: Hill and Wang, 1967.

1. Maureen A. Flanagan , America Reformed: Progressives and Progressivisms, 1890s–1920s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 10.

2. Jane Addams , Democracy and Social Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1902).

3. Michael Les Benedict , “Law and Regulation in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era,” in Law as Culture and Culture as Law: Essays in Honor of John Philip Reid , ed. Hendrick Hartog and William E. Nelson (Madison, WI: Madison House Publishers, 2000), 227–263 ; Christopher L. Tomlins , The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in American 1880–1960 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

4. Michael Willrich , City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 100–103.

5. Nancy Woloch , Muller v. Oregon: A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford Books, 1996).

6. Victoria Getis , The Juvenile Court and the Progressives (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000).

7. Jennifer Koslow , Cultivating Health: Los Angeles Women and Public Health Reform (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009) ; Daphne Spain , How Women Saved the City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001) ; Anne Firor Scott , Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992) ; and Judith N. McArthur , Creating the New Woman: The Rise of Southern Women’s Progressive Culture in Texas, 1893–1918 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998).

8. Nancy C. Unger , Beyond Nature’s Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 86 , for the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. See Arthur S. Link and Richard L. McCormick , Progressivism (Arlington Heights, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1983), 38 ; Robert H. Wiebe , The Search for Order, 1877–1920 (New York: Hill & Wang, 1967), 191 ; Vincent P. DeSantis, The Shaping of Modern America, 1877–1920 (Arlington Heights, IL: Forum Press), 184; and Daniel Block , “Saving Milk through Masculinity: Public Health Officers and Pure Milk, 1880–1930,” Food and Foodways: History and Culture of Human Nourishment 15 (January–June 2005): 115–135.

9. Kriste Lindenmeyer , “A Right to Childhood”: The U.S. Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912–46 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 10–29 and 114–132.

10. Maureen A. Flanagan , Seeing with Their Hearts: Chicago Women and the Vision of the Good City, 1871–1933 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002) ; and Scott, Natural Allies , 159–174.

11. Robyn Muncy , Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 132–150, 152–154 ; Lindenmeyer, “A Right to Childhood,” chap. 4, esp. 100–103; and Lynne Curry , Modern Mothers in the Heartland: Gender, Health, and Progress in Illinois, 1900–1930 (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1999), 120–131.

12. Scott, Natural Allies , 147

13. Landon R. Y. Storrs , Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers’ League, Women’s Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), chap. 1.

14. Elizabeth Payne , Reform, Labor, and Feminism: Margaret Dreier Robins and the Women’s Trade Union League (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

15. Kevin Mattson , Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 45.

16. Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public , includes a chapter on Follett, but the rest of the book focuses on men. Alan Dawley , Struggles for Justice: Social Responsibility and the Liberal State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 102 , shortchanges women’s Progressivism, saying it “merely extended the boundaries of women’s sphere to the realm of ‘social housekeeping’”; Daniel T. Rodgers , Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 19–20, 239–240 , calls them “social maternalists” rather than social justice Progressives and claims that they were motivated by “sentiment” and focused on protecting “women’s weakness.” For Chicago women’s clubs, see Elizabeth Belanger , “The Neighborhood Ideal: Local Planning-Practices in Progressive-Era Women’s Clubs,” Journal of Planning History 8.2 (May 2009): 87–110.

17. Nancy Unger , Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000) . Charles McCarthy , The Wisconsin Idea (New York: Macmillan, 1912).

18. Robert D. Johnston , The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 123.

19. Martin J. Schiesl , The Politics of Efficiency: Municipal Administration and Reform in American, 1880–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) , provides the clearest overall picture of these elements of this political Progressivism.

20. Committee on Municipal Program of the National Municipal League , A Model City Charter and Municipal Home Rule (Philadelphia: National Municipal League, 1916).

21. Amy Bridges , Morning Glories: Municipal Reform in the Southwest (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999) ; Bradley R. Rice , “The Galveston Plan of City Government by Commission: The Birth of a Progressive Idea,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly , 78.4 (April 1975): 365–408 ; and Schiesl, The Politics of Efficiency , 136–137 for Des Moines.

22. Kenneth Finegold , Experts and Politicians: Reform Challenges to Machine Politics in New York, Cleveland, and Chicago (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 82–88 for Johnson and 107–111 for charter reform in Cleveland.

23. Maureen A. Flanagan , Charter Reform in Chicago (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1987).

24. James J. Connolly , The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900–1925 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 106–107.

25. David Stradling , Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers, and Air Quality in America, 1881–1951 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 21–36.

26. Angela Gugliotta , “How, When, and for Whom Was Smoke a Problem?” in Devastation and Renewal: An Environmental History of Pittsburgh and Its Region , ed. Joel Tarr (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), 118–120.

27. Stradling, Smokestacks and Progressives , 63–67 and 108–137, provides a comprehensive overview of the political Progressivism of smoke pollution.

28. Angela Gugliotta , “Class, Gender, and Coal Smoke: Gender Ideology and Environmental Injustice in Pittsburgh, 1868–1914,” Environmental History 6.2 (April 2000): 173–176.

29. Flanagan, Seeing with Their Hearts , 100–102 and America Reformed , 173–179. See Scott, Natural Allies , 143–145 for more on women’s health protective associations.

30. Anne-Marie Szymanski , “Regulatory Transformations in a Changing City: The Anti-Smoke Movement in Baltimore, 1895–1931,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 13.3 (July 2014): 364–366.

31. William H. Wilson , The City Beautiful Movement (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985) ; and Jon A. Peterson , The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840–1917 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003) , Parts 2 and 3.

32. Carl A. Smith , The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

33. Max Page , The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, 1900–1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999) ; and Mel Scott , American City Planning since 1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971) , Parts 2, 3, and 4.

34. Eric Sandweiss , St. Louis: The Evolution of an American Urban Landscape (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).

35. Susan Marie Wirka , “The City Social Movement: Progressive Women Reformers and Early Social Planning,” in Planning the Twentieth-Century American City , ed. Mary Corbin Sies and Christopher Silver (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 55–75 ; and Maureen A. Flanagan , “City Profitable, City Livable: Environmental Policy, Gender, and Power in Chicago in the 1910s,” Journal of Urban History 22.2 (January 1996): 163–190.

36. Frederic Howe , The City: The Hope of Democracy (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1905).

37. Mary Parker Follett , The New State: Group Organization the Solution of Popular Government (New York: Longmans, Green, 1918).

38. Connolly, The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism.

39. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings , 236–238, 251–254.

40. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings , 108–109.

41. Dorothy Ross , The Origins of American Social Science (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 158–159.

42. Ellen Fitzpatrick , Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

43. Theda Skocpol , Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 183.

44. Fitzpatrick, Endless Crusade , 40–44, 80, 82, and 90–91.

45. Martin J. Sklar , The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890–1916 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

46. Samuel P. Hays , Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Movement, 1890–1920 (repr., New York: Atheneum, 1969), chap. 7.

47. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency , chap. 8.

48. DeSantis, The Shaping of Modern America , 194–199.

49. Eric Rauchway , Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003), 189–200.

50. Morton Keller , Regulating a New Society: Public Policy and Social Change in America, 1900–1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 194–196.

51. Julie Greene , Pure and Simple Politics: The American Federation of Labor and Political Activism, 1881–1917 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 219, 279 ; and Shelton Stromquist, Reinventing the “People”: The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 66.

52. Greene, Pure and Simple Politics , 9, 235.

53. Fr. John Ryan , The Living Wage: Its Ethical and Economic Aspects (New York: Macmillan, 1906), 283–285 . Richard Ely wrote the book’s introduction.

54. Payne, Reform, Labor, and Feminism , 95–107.

55. Shelton Stromquist , “The Crucible of Class: Cleveland Politics and the Origins of Municipal Reform in the Progressive Era,” Journal of Urban History 23.2 (January 1997): 192–220.

56. Daniel J. Johnson , “‘No Make-Believe Class Struggle’: The Socialist Municipal Campaign in Los Angeles, 1922,” Labor History 41.1 (February 2000): 25–45 ; Douglas E. Booth , “Municipal Socialism and City Government Reform: The Milwaukee Experience, 1910–1940,” Journal of Urban History 12.1 (November 1985): 51–71 ; and Josephine Kaneko , “What a Socialist Alderman Would Do,” Coming Nation (March 1914).

57. Gail Radford , “From Municipal Socialism to Public Authorities: Institutional Factors in the Shaping of American Public Enterprise,” Journal of American History 90.3 (December 2003): 863–890.

58. Nell Irvin Painter , Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877–1919 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 150.

59. Herbert Croly , The Promise of American Life (New York: Macmillan, 1909).

60. Emily Rosenberg , Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy, 1900–1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).

61. Matthew Frye Jacobson , Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876–1917 (New York: Hill & Wang, 2000), 227.

62. Alan Dawley , Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 81.

63. Theodore Roosevelt , The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (New York: Century, 1903).

64. George F. Becker , “Conditions Requisite to Our Success in the Philippine Islands,” address to the American Geographical Society, February 20, 1901, Bulletin of the American Geographical Society (1901): 112–123.

65. Albert Beveridge , The Young Man and the World (New York: Appleton, 1905), 338 ; and Kristen Hoganson , Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).

66. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings , is the most complete analysis of this internationalism.

67. Jane Addams , Newer Ideals of Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1907) ; Robert La Follette , LaFollette’s Weekly 5.1 (March 29, 1913) ; Kristen Hoganson , “‘As Badly-Off As the Filipinos’: U.S. Women Suffragists and the Imperial Issue at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Women’s History 13.2 (Summer 2001): 9–33 ; and Nancy C. Unger , Belle La Follette: Progressive Era Reformer (New York: Routledge, 2015).

68. David Kennedy , Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

69. Harriet Hyman , introduction to Women at The Hague , by Jane Addams , Emily Greene Balch , and Alice Hamilton (repr., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003) ; and Kathryn Kish Sklar , “‘Some of Us Who Deal with the Social Fabric’: Jane Addams Blends Peace and Social Justice,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2.1 (January 2003): 80–96.

70. Julia F. Irwin , Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

71. Jane Addams , Peace and Bread in Time of War (New York: Macmillan, 1922), 4–5.

72. Unger, Fighting Bob La Follette , chap. 14.

73. Kennedy, Over Here , 34; New Republic 10 (February 10 and 17, 1917); and Dawley, Changing the World , 122, 147, 165–169.

74. Walter Lippmann , “The World Conflict in Relation to American Democracy,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 72 (July 1917): 1–10 ; Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings , 283–285, 288–289; and Dawley, Changing the World , 147.

75. Christine Lunardini , From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910–1928 (New York: New York University Press, 1986).

76. LeeAnn Whites , “Love, Hate, Rape, and Lynching: Rebecca Latimer Fulton and the Gender Politics of Racial Violence,” in Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy , ed. David Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyron (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

77. Fitzpatrick, Endless Crusade , 180–181.

78. Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public , 44.

79. David Levering Lewis , W. E. B. DuBois: A Biography, 1868–1963 (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 276–277 ; and Gary Gerstle , American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 77–78 , for Addams.

80. Lisa G. Masterson , Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877–1932 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 101–106.

81. John Higham , Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1869–1925 (1955; repr. New York: Atheneum, 1974), 129–130, 222–224 ; and Gerstle, American Crucible , 55–56.

82. Robert D. Johnston , “Long Live Teddy/Death to Woodrow: The Polarized Politics of the Progressive Era in the 2012 Election,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 13.3 (July 2014): 411–443.

83. Ida M. Tarbell , The History of the Standard Oil Company (New York: McClure, Phillips, 1904) ; Frank Norris , The Octopus: A Story of California (New York: Doubleday, 1901) ; and Upton Sinclair , The Jungle (New York: Jungle Publishing, 1906).

84. Benjamin De Witt , The Progressive Movement (New York: Macmillan, 1915) ; and Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard , The Rise of American Civilization (New York: Macmillan, 1927).

85. George E. Mowry , The California Progressives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951) ; and Richard Hofstadter , The Age of Reform (New York: Vintage Books, 1955).

86. Samuel P. Hays , “The Politics of Reform in Municipal Government in the Progressive Era,” Pacific Historical Review 55.4 (October 1964): 157–159.

87. Robert H. Wiebe , Businessmen and Reform: A Study of the Progressive Movement (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962) ; and Wiebe, The Search for Order .

88. Schiesl, The Politics of Efficiency ; and Finegold, Experts and Politicians.

89. John Louis Recchiuti , Social Science and Progressive Era Reform in New York City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) ; and Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science .

90. Gabriel Kolko , The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900–1916 (New York: Free Press, 1963).

91. John D. Buenker , Urban Liberalism and Progressive Reform (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1973).

92. Peter G. Filene , “An Obituary for the Progressive Movement,” American Quarterly 22.1 (Spring 1970): 20–34 ; and Daniel T. Rodgers , “In Search of Progressivism,” Reviews in American History 10.4 (December 1982): 113–132.

93. Paul Boyer , Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978) ; Michael McGerr , A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920 (New York: Free Press, 2003) ; and Jackson Lears , Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920 (New York: Harper, 2009).

94. Daniel T. Rodgers , “Capitalism and Politics in the Progressive Era and in Ours,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 13.3 (July 2014): 379–386 ; Robert D. Johnston, “Long Live Teddy/Death to Woodrow, 411–443; and Stromquist, Reinventing the “People.”

95. Robyn Muncy , Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015).

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The Progressive Presidents: Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson

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progressive era presidents essay

The ownership of corporations and the relationship between owners and laborers were the contentious topics of the period.

Roosevelt’s Square Deal

At the dawn of the twentieth century, America was at a crossroads. Presented with abundant opportunity, but also hindered by significant internal and external problems, the country was seeking leaders who could provide a new direction. The political climate was ripe for reform, and the stage was set for the era of the Progressive Presidents, beginning with Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

Teddy Roosevelt was widely popular due to his status as a hero of the Spanish-American War and his belief in “speaking softly and carrying a big stick.” Taking over the presidency in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley, he quickly assured America that he would not take any drastic measures. He then demanded a “Square Deal” that would address his primary concerns for the era—the three C’s: control of corporations, consumer protection, and conservation.

The ownership of corporations and the relationship between owners and laborers, as well as government’s role in the relationship, were the contentious topics of the period. Workers were demanding greater rights and protection, while corporations expected labor to remain cheap and plentiful. This conflict came to a head in 1902, with the anthracite coal strike in Pennsylvania. Coal mining was dirty and dangerous work, and 140,000 miners went on strike and demanded a 20 percent pay increase and a reduction in the workday from ten to nine hours. The mine owners were unsympathetic and refused to negotiate with labor representatives. With the approach of winter the dwindling coal supply began to cause concern throughout the nation.

progressive era presidents essay

Roosevelt, going against established precedent, decided to step in. He summoned the mine owners and union representatives to meet with him in Washington. Roosevelt was partly moved by strong public support and took the side of the miners. Still, the mine owners were reluctant to negotiate until Roosevelt, threatening to use his “big stick,” declared that he would seize the mines and operate them with federal troops. Owners reluctantly agreed to arbitration, where the striking workers received a 10 percent pay increase and a nine-hour working day. This was the first time a president sided with unions in a labor dispute, and it helped cement Roosevelt’s reputation as a friend of the common people and gave his administration the nickname “The Square Deal.”

Emboldened by this success and in pursuit of the first element of his Square Deal, Roosevelt began to attack large, monopolistic corporations. Some trusts were effective and legitimate, but many of these companies engaged in corrupt and preferential business practices. In 1902, the Northern Securities Company, owned by J.P. Morgan and James J. Hill, controlled most of the railroads in the northwestern United States and intended to create a total monopoly. Roosevelt initiated legal proceedings against Northern Securities and eventually the Supreme Court ordered that the company be dissolved. Roosevelt’s radical actions angered big business and earned him the reputation of a “trust buster,” despite the fact that his successors Taft and Wilson actually dissolved more trusts.

In 1903, with urging from Roosevelt, Congress created the Department of Commerce and Labor (DOCL). This cabinet-level department was designed to monitor corporations and ensure that they engaged in fair business practices. The Bureau of Corporations was created under the DOCL to benefit consumers by monitoring interstate commerce, helping dissolve monopolies, and promoting fair competition between companies. In 1913, the DOCL was split into two separate entities, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor, both of which continue to play an important role in regulating business today.

The railroad business continued to be one of the most powerful and influential industries. Like many companies of the time, railroad companies engaged in corrupt business practices such as rebating and price fixing. Roosevelt encouraged Congress to take action to address these abuses, and in 1903 they passed the Elkins Act, which levied heavy fines on companies that engaged in illegal rebating. In 1906, they passed the Hepburn Act, which greatly strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission. This law allowed the Commission to set maximum rates, inspect a company’s books, and investigate railroads, sleeping car companies, oil pipelines, and other transportation firms. This was a bold action by Roosevelt and Congress given the transportation industry was a powerful lobbyist and a significant political contributor.

progressive era presidents essay

The second element of Roosevelt’s Square Deal was consumer protection. In the early 1900s, there was little regulation of the food or drugs that were available to the public. In 1906, Upton Sinclair published a book called The Jungle that described in graphic detail the Chicago slaughterhouse industry. Sinclair intended for his book to expose the plight of immigrant workers and possibly bring readers to the Socialist movement, but people were instead shocked and sickened by the practices of the meat industry.

Roosevelt had the power to do something about the horrors described in The Jungle . He immediately appointed a special investigating committee to look into food handling practices in Chicago. Their report confirmed much of what Sinclair had written. Roosevelt was shocked by the report and predicted that it could have a devastating effect on American meat exports. He agreed to keep it quiet on the condition that Congress would take action to address the issues.

After much pressure from Roosevelt, Congress reluctantly agreed to pass the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Many members of Congress were reluctant to pass these laws, as the meat industry was a powerful lobbying force. However, the passage of this legislation helped prevent the adulteration and mislabeling of food, alcohol, and drugs. It was an important first step toward ensuring that Americans were buying safe and healthy products. Eventually, the meatpacking industry welcomed these reforms, as they found that a government seal of approval would help increase their export revenues.

The final element of Roosevelt’s Square Deal was conservation. Roosevelt was widely known as a sportsman, hunter, and outdoorsman, and he had a genuine love and respect for nature. However, many Americans of the time viewed the country’s natural resources as limitless. For example, many farmers, ranchers, and timber companies in the west were consuming a huge portion of the available resources at an alarming rate. Their primary obsession was profit, and they had little concern for the damage they were causing. However, there was a small but vocal population who had a great deal of concern for the environment. Fortunately for them and for future Americans, the environmentalists had a friend in Teddy Roosevelt.

Environmentalism and conservation were not new ideas, but most had not been concerned with ecological issues. While a number of laws had been passed to prevent or limit the destruction of natural resources, the majority of this legislation was not enforced or lacked the teeth necessary to make a significant difference.

With Roosevelt’s urging, Congress passed the Newlands Act of 1902. This legislation allowed the federal government to sell public lands in the arid, desert western states and devote the proceeds to irrigation projects. Landowners would then repay part of the irrigation costs from the proceeds they received from their newly fertile land, and this money was earmarked for more irrigation projects. Eventually, dozens of dams were created in the desert including the massive Roosevelt Dam on Arizona’s Salt River.

Another major concern of environmentalists was the devastation of the nation’s timberlands. By 1900, only about 25 percent of the huge timber preserves were still standing. Roosevelt set aside 125 million acres of timberlands as federal reserves, over three times the amount preserved by all of his predecessors combined. He also performed similar actions with coal and water reserves, thus guaranteeing the preservation of some natural resources for future generations. Environmentalists such as John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the upstart Sierra Club aided Roosevelt in his efforts. Preserving America’s natural resources and calling attention to the desperate need for conservation may well have been Teddy Roosevelt’s greatest achievement as President, and his most enduring legacy.

Taft’s Administration

progressive era presidents essay

In 1908, President Teddy Roosevelt could have easily carried his burgeoning popularity to a sweeping victory in the presidential election, but in 1904 he made an impulsive promise not to seek a second elected term. However, he did not intend to completely relinquish control, so he handpicked a successor. Howard Taft, the 350-pound Secretary of War, was chosen as the Republican candidate for 1908. Taft was a mild progressive and an easygoing man that Roosevelt and other Republican leaders felt they could control. Taft easily defeated the Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, and the Socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, in what can be construed as continued public endorsement of Roosevelt.

Unfortunately, from the onset of his administration Taft did not live up to Roosevelt’s standards or the expectations of other Progressives. He lacked Roosevelt’s strength of personality and was more passive in his dealings with Congress. Many politicians were surprised to learn that Taft did not share some of the Progressive ideas and policies that Roosevelt endorsed. In fact, many people felt that Taft lacked the mental and physical stamina necessary to be an effective President.

The first major blow to the Progressives during Taft’s administration was the Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909. Taft called a special session of Congress to address what many people felt were excessive tariffs. After this session, the House of Representatives passed a bill that moderately restricted tariffs, but their legislation was severely modified when it reached the Senate. Radical Senators, led by Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, tacked on hundreds of revisions that effectively raised tariffs on almost all products. Taft eventually signed the bill and declared it “the best bill that the Republican Party ever passed.” This action dumbfounded Progressives and marked the beginning of an internal struggle for control of the Republican Party.

Another issue that caused dissension among Republicans was Taft’s handling of conservation issues. Taft was a dedicated conservationist and he devoted extensive resources to the protection of the environment. However, most of his progress was undone by his handling of the Ballinger-Pinchot dispute. Pinchot, the leader of the Department of Forestry and a well-liked ally of Roosevelt, attacked Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger for how he handled public lands.

Ballinger opened up thousands of acres of public lands in Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska for private use, and this angered many Progressives. Pinchot was openly critical of Ballinger, and in 1910 Taft responded by firing Pinchot for insubordination. This infuriated much of the public as well as the legions of political players who were still fiercely loyal to Roosevelt.

A major rift occurred in the Republican Party as a result of Taft’s straying from Progressive policy. The party was split down the middle between the “Old Guard” Republicans who supported Taft and the Progressive Republicans who backed Roosevelt. This division in the Republican Party allowed Democrats to regain control of the House of Representatives in a landslide victory in the congressional elections of 1910.

In early 1912, Roosevelt triumphantly returned and announced himself as a challenger for the Republican presidential nomination. Roosevelt and his followers, embracing “New Nationalism,” began to furiously campaign for the nomination. However, as a result of their late start and Taft’s ability as incumbent to control the convention, they were unable to secure the delegates necessary to win the Republican candidacy. Not one to admit defeat, Roosevelt formed the “Bull Moose” Party and vowed to enter the race as a third-party candidate.

The split in the Republican Party made the Democrats optimistic about regaining the White House for the first time since 1897. They sought a reformist candidate to challenge the Republicans, and decided on Woodrow Wilson, a career academic and the current progressive governor of New Jersey. Wilson’s “New Freedom” platform sought reduced tariffs, banking reform, and stronger antitrust legislation. The Socialists again nominated Eugene V. Debs whose platform sought public ownership of resources and industries. As expected, Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican vote, and Wilson easily won a majority of the electoral votes. Having received only 41 percent of the popular vote, Wilson was a minority president.

Wilson’s New Freedom

progressive era presidents essay

Upon taking office, Woodrow Wilson became only the second Democratic president since 1861. Wilson was a trim figure with clean-cut features and pince-nez glasses clipped to the bridge of his nose, giving him an academic look. Partly due to his academic background and limited political experience, Wilson was very much an idealist. He was intelligent and calculating, but the public perception was that he was emotionally cold and distant. Wilson arrived in the White House with a clear agenda and the drive to achieve all of his goals. In addition, the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress was eager to show the public that their support was not misdirected.

Wilson’s platform called for an assault on “the triple wall of privilege,” which consisted of tariffs, banks, and trusts, and rarely has a president set to work so quickly. His first objective was to reduce the prohibitive tariffs that hurt American businesses and consumers. In an unprecedented move, Wilson personally appeared before Congress to call a special session to discuss tariffs in early 1913. Moved and stunned by Wilson’s eloquence and force of character, Congress immediately designed the Underwood Tariff Bill, which significantly reduced import fees.

The Underwood Tariff Bill brought the first significant reduction of duties since before the Civil War. In order to make up for the loss in revenues caused by the lower tariffs, the Underwood Bill introduced a graduated income tax. This new tax was introduced under the authority of the recently ratified Sixteenth Amendment. Initially, the tax was levied on incomes over $3,000, which was significantly higher than the national average. However, by 1917 the revenue from income taxes greatly exceeded receipts from the tariff. This margin has continued to grow exponentially over the years.

After tackling the tariff, Wilson turned his attention to the nation’s banks. The country’s financial structure was woefully outdated, and its inefficiencies had been exposed by the Republican’s economic expansion and the Panic of 1907. The currency system was very inelastic, with most reserves concentrated in New York and a few other large cities. These resources could not be mobilized quickly in the event of a financial crisis in a different area. Wilson considered two proposals: one calling for a third Bank of the United States, the other seeking a decentralized bank under government control.

Siding with public opinion, Wilson called another special session of Congress in June of 1913. He overwhelmingly endorsed the idea of a decentralized bank, and asked Congress to radically change the banking system. Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act, which was arguably the greatest piece of legislation between the Civil War and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Act created a Federal Reserve Board, which oversaw a system of 12 regional reserve districts, each with its own central bank. This new system also issued Federal Reserve Notes, paper currency that quickly allowed the government to adjust the flow of money, which are still in use today. The Federal Reserve Act was instrumental in allowing America to meet the financial challenges of World War I and emerge from the war as one of the world’s financial powers.

Emboldened by his successes, President Wilson turned his attention to the trusts. Although legislation designed to address the issue of trusts had existed for many years, they were still very much a problem. Again, Wilson appeared before Congress and delivered an emotional and dramatic address. He asked Congress to create legislation that would finally address trusts and tame the rampant monopolies. After several months of discussion, Congress presented Wilson with the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. This act allowed the government to closely inspect companies engaged in interstate commerce, such as meatpackers and railroads. The Commission investigated unfair trading practices such as false advertising, monopolistic practices, bribery, and misrepresentation.

Following closely behind the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, was the Clayton Act of 1914. It served to strengthen the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 (the first measure passed by the U.S. Congress to prohibit trusts) and redefine the practices that were considered monopolistic and illegal. The Clayton Act provided support for labor unions by exempting labor from antitrust prosecution and legalizing strikes and peaceful picketing, which were not part of the Sherman Act. Renowned American Federation of Labor union leader, Samuel Gompers, declared the Clayton Act the “Magna Carta” of labor. Unfortunately, labor’s triumph was short-lived, as conservative judges continued to curtail union power in controversial decisions.

progressive era presidents essay

The era of the Progressive presidents produced a number of notable achievements. Trust-busting forced industrialists and monopolistic corporations to consider public opinion when making business decisions. This benefited the consumer and helped grow the economy. The Progressive presidents also increased consumers’ rights by limiting corporate abuses and trying to ensure the safe labeling of food and drugs. The creation of a federal income tax system lowered tariffs and increased America’s presence as a global trading partner. It also raised additional revenues, some of which were used for beneficial programs such as conservation. The Progressive presidents served to strengthen the office of the president and the public began to expect more from the executive branch. Progressivism as a concept helped challenge traditional thinking about government’s relationship to the people and sparked new ideas that stimulated thought for decades to come.

Along with these significant accomplishments, the Progressive movement also had a number of notable shortcomings. Due to several contrary schools of thought within the movement, goals were often confusing and contradictory. Although most Progressives had good intentions, their conflicting goals helped detract from the overall objectives of the movement. Despite the numerous successes and lofty goals and ideals of the Progressive movement, the federal government was still too greatly influenced by industry and big business. The Progressive movement was not a complete success, but it did serve to spark new ideas and new ways of thinking about business and government. It created a new school of thought that challenged traditional ideas and allowed several new politicians to break the mold and lead the country in a new direction. This new way of thinking proved vital for the United States as the First World War loomed on the horizon.

Originally published by AP Study Notes , republished with permission for educational, non-commercial purposes.

progressive era presidents essay

The Progressive Era

progressive era presidents essay

The Civil War increased the power of the federal government by forcing the Southern states to abolish slavery and paved the way for still greater increase in other matters after the war. People expected it to do more, and gave it more power so it could try. The defeat of the South, Reconstruction, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment gave the national government growing power over the states and the people. The great and long-overdue liberating qualities of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments came, ironically, at a price to liberty: the government would need much greater power it if was going to attempt to enforce equality.

Also important to the constitutional history of the United States during this time were developments on the world stage. The ideas of German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels captured the attention of intellectuals and many others concerned with the conditions of the poor in industrialized nations.

Marx and Engels wrote “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto , 1848).

They argued that capitalism should be replaced by socialism—a term that broadly refers to government ownership of industries and collective, rather than private, ownership of property. Eventually, Marx and Engels envisioned a classless society giving “to each according to his need,” and taking “from each according to his ability.” There would no longer be any unfulfilled need, or even a need for government itself in a future communist society. The individual person, with rights at the center of the American tradition, would be replaced by socialized persons called “species beings.” Until that time the Communist party would rule a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” the working class that the party claimed to represent.

Marx and engels

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of “The Communist Manifesto” (1848)

Socialism appealed to some but not many in the U.S. The Socialist Labor Party was founded in 1877, with goals of a classless society and collective ownership of industry and social services. Woodrow Wilson, while not claiming the label “Socialist,” determined that democracy and socialism were not all that different.

Writing as a leading professor in 1887, he wrote: “In a fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals” (Woodrow Wilson, Socialism and Democracy , 1887).

The idea that government or “the community,” has “an absolute right to determine its own destiny and that of its members” is a progressive one. The difference between the Founders’ and progressive’s visions can be summarized this way: The Founders believed citizens could best pursue happiness if government was limited to protecting the life, liberty, and property of individuals. They believed people were naturally inclined to favor themselves, and they structured government so that people’s self-interest and individual ambition would lead outstanding officials to check one another’s attempts to exercise more power than the Constitution allows. Unlike the framers of the Constitution, progressives believed that the ultimate aim of government should be promoting the development of all human faculties. Because “communities” have rights, those rights are more important than the personal liberty of any one individual in that community. Therefore, they believed, government should provide citizens with the environment and the means to improve themselves through government-sponsored programs and policies as well as economic redistribution of goods from the rich to the poor.

The twentieth century saw continued unrest over the conditions of workers in all industrial countries.

In the U.S., some organized labor demonstrations became violent. When more than 100,000 workers protested pay cuts in the 1894 Pullman strike, disrupting all rail service west of Detroit, President Cleveland eventually used the U.S. Army to break the protests. Many believed socialism promised the relief they sought. The Socialist Party of America was formed in 1901. International Workers of the World, a union that called for the end of capitalism and wage labor, formed in 1905. Industrial tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which more than one hundred workers died, further incited those demanding reforms. In 1917, the drama erupted in Europe as well, when the Bolshevik Revolution established Soviet Russia.

Pullman strike 1894

Strikers confront the Illinois National Guard during the 1894 Pullman Strike.

Some saw the integration of some socialist party goals into the Democratic Party platform as a compromise. While the Socialist Party never captured the presidency in the U.S., Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs received almost six percent of the popular vote in 1912. Socialist ideas were clearly part of the national conversation, and found their way into Progressive reforms of the period. Progressivism was not Marxism, but the two schools did agree that the community and its purposes should come before the individual and his preferences. These progressive reforms included the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments.

Wilson, who served as president from 1913-1919, advocated what we today call the living Constitution, or the idea that its interpretation should adapt to the times. The Founders’ Constitution, in which ambition is set to “counteract” ambition, owes more to Newtonian mechanics than to Darwinian evolution, Wilson argued. As such, the Founders’ Constitution is outdated and needs improvement. The evolutionary adaptability of species identified by Darwin suggests a constitutional model. He wrote:

“Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice” (Woodrow Wilson, “What is Progress?” 1912).

Wilson oversaw the implementation of progressive policies such as the introduction of the income tax and the creation of the Federal Reserve System to attempt to manage the economy.

The Sixteenth Amendment authorized the national government to tax incomes. It was ratified in 1913, and Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1913 that same year. With a progressive income tax (where those who produce more pay more), the national government could now take wealth from some who had more and redistribute it to others who had less.

Woodrow wilson

President Woodrow Wilson, a leading Progressive in the early twentieth century.

The Seventeenth Amendment, providing for the election of senators by the people of each state, was approved that same year. This amendment provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators. This change to the Constitution was a challenge to the principle of federalism. The Founders had carefully structured the two houses of Congress and given them different powers based on those differences. For example, representatives were elected by the people of each state for two year terms, and had the “power of the purse.” Senators were selected by their state legislatures, had six year terms, and had the duties of ratifying treaties, trying impeachments, and approving executive appointments. As Madison had written in  Federalist No. 10,  the design of Congress was meant to strike a balance, allowing the people to govern themselves while still protecting individual rights and the powers of states (James Madison,  Federalist No. 10 , 1788). The Senate was, to put it another way, a “check” against democracy and the tyranny of the majority. The Seventeenth Amendment loosened this “check and balance.”

Prohibition of the sale of liquor was a drastic progressive reform for the improvement of popular morality.

While the Temperance movement began as a female-dominated attempt to persuade individuals to abstain from drinking, it later shifted to a campaign to use the force of law to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The Eighteenth Amendment (1920) banned the manufacture, sale, or transport of intoxicating beverages and the Volstead Act codified it in U.S. law. A massive failure in every way, Prohibition was repealed with the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933.

The last of the progressive amendments to the Constitution, the Nineteenth Amendment barred states from denying female citizens the right to vote in federal elections. This amendment extended the right to vote to half the population which had, in most states, been denied the right to cast votes for their representatives. Interestingly, some woman’s suffragists campaigned for the extension of the franchise to women not on women’s equality, but on women’s claimed superior moral character, which was needed to guide the U.S. down the right paths. By acknowledging and basing their arguments on natural differences between the sexes, the suffrage movement differed from modern feminism which emphasizes the view that the sexes are essentially the same.

The Progressive Era represented a dramatic shift when it came to many peoples’ understanding of democracy, the purpose of government, and the role it should play in our lives. It also set the stage for the New Deal, and a definition of “rights” that was also a dramatic break from tradition.

Suffragette march nyc 1912

Suffragettes march in New York City in 1912 for the right of women to vote.

Related Content

progressive era presidents essay

Part of the Civil War’s legacy was a shift in the role of the national government. The defeat of the South, Reconstruction, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment gave the national government growing power over the states and the people. The Fourteenth Amendment gave the national government power (though exactly how much power was still being debated) to ensure state laws did not violate the rights of the freedmen. Additional amendments during the Progressive Era (the 1890s - 1920s) continued this transfer of power to the national government. In the name of giving power to the people, the national government was given power to tax incomes; states lost their representation in Congress, the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned, and women achieved the right to vote.

“It would be an irony of fate, if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.”

Wilson’s Presidency both overlapped with and was in many ways definitive of the politics of the Progressive Era (approx. 1890-1920).

The term “Progressive” was broadly defined, encompassing a wide array of policies and ideologies – often in contradiction with one another – which sought to mitigate social and economic inequalities at the turn-of-the-20 th century.  The era witnessed the rapid expansion and overcrowding of cities, inadequate housing, unregulated labor, poor public health, farmer indebtedness and sharecropping – especially for southern Blacks, child labor, and the emergence of a wealth gap in which 1% of Americans owned nearly 90% of the nation’s wealth. While their solutions differed and often conflicted, Progressives shared the view that a proactive, expanded government was necessary to fix society’s ills.  

Progressives in both the Republican and Democratic Parties (including, but not limited to, socialists, populists, and anarchists) sought solutions in the form of child labor laws, women’s suffrage, unionization, public health services, Black civil rights, and economic regulation and taxes as well as immigration restriction, segregation, and the prohibition of alcohol. All of these ideologies could fall within the “Progressive” umbrella.

Woodrow Wilson claimed his place within the Progressive movement with his economic reform package, "the New Freedom." This agenda, which passed Congress at the end of 1913, included tariff, banking, and labor reforms and introduced the income tax. Wilson also expanded the executive branch with the creation of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service. His emphasis on efficiency and bureaucracy fit him squarely within the Progressive movement. 

During Wilson’s terms, Congress passed two constitutional amendments: prohibition (18th); and women's suffrage (19th)—both Progressive agendas. Another amendment was ratified while Wilson was President:  direct election of Senators (17th) on April 8th 1913. (The 16th amendment, which concerns income tax, was ratified in February 1913, after Wilson was elected but before he took office. The ratification was proclaimed by Taft’s Secretary of State, Philander Knox). 

Wilson’s Progressive legacy was also solidified through the appointment of his close friend Justice Louis Brandies to the Supreme Court as the first Jewish American to sit on the nation’s highest court. Justice Brandeis was a staunch proponent of the right to free speech and the right to privacy while he supported the regulation of business and anti-monopoly legislation championed by Wilson’s economic plan.

Wilson also embraced and encouraged new technology . He opened the Panama Canal, started airmail service, endorsed the creation of an interstate highway system, appeared in one of the first filmed campaign advertisements, used a microphone for the amplification of his voice, and witnessed the birth of radio.

These accomplishments, however, were all too often achieved at the expense of African Americans, women, immigrants, and Native Americans. Legal scholars have revealed the ways in which the income tax codes and banking policies often disadvantaged African American families. What is more, Wilson couched his embrace of segregation as part of his Progressive commitment to efficiency, arguing (insincerely) that segregation reduced friction among federal workers and increased productivity. And though Wilson vetoed the 1917 Immigration Law which established the Asiatic Barred Zone and a Literacy Test for entry, along with other restrictive measures, he nonetheless voiced support for much of the law and his veto was ultimately overridden.

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progressive era presidents essay

Essay on The Progressive Presidents

The progressiveness of the U.S. presidential elections of 1912 was concluded in different philosophies of the two prime candidates, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, both of whom expressed Progressive ideas. Although both candidates, Wilson and Roosevelt, were Progressive, their attitudes regarding the promotion and implementation of the ideas of Progressivism in the United States were different, at least in their theoretic approaches. Reviewing the complex nature of Progressivism, it is possible to explore how presidents’ policies while in office may be different from their rhetoric on the campaign trail. Actually, the study of presidency helps to better understand the nature of political philosophy (Bowles, 2011). According to third-party Bull Mooses, Americans needed a new party that would help the nation to awaken and promote the sense of justice. The Progressive Party was aimed at the fulfillment of the duty to “maintain the government of the people, by the people and for the people” (Bull Moose Party, 1912). The Bull Moose Party was linked to Roosevelt’s political ideas. Wilson and Roosevelt expressed their ideas and priorities in their speeches: New Nationalism by Roosevelt and New Freedom by Wilson. The major goal of this paper is to compare each president’s political principles with his actions while in office and define how well their actions matched their rhetoric.

Comparing Theodore Roosevelt’s political principles with his actions while in office

Theodore Roosevelt’s political principles differed from his actions while in office. Roosevelt’s political principles were aimed at developing new nationalism through socialization of democracy. He highlighted the “need for government to regulate capitalism, and provide a square deal for all Americans” (Roosevelt, 1910). Roosevelt wanted to achieve equality of opportunity, destructing the established special privileges. He said, “The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows” (Roosevelt, 1910). He wanted to achieve practical equality of opportunity for all American citizens.

Roosevelt’s presidency had been focused on realization of the new form of democracy through combining Hamilton’s strong presidency and Jefferson’s egalitarian political thought.  In fact, Roosevelt was the first political leader who managed to identify national principle with reforms. He realized that American leader should not only represent the national interests, but also develop reforms to meet the needs of the nation. As a result, some of Roosevelt’s policies while in office were different from his rhetoric on the campaign trail. In general, Roosevelt became an initiator and promoter of many progressive reforms. He supported organized labor, the control and regulation of business by the government, the protection of consumer rights (Bowles, 2011).

Comparing Woodrow Wilson’s political principles with his actions while in office

Woodrow Wilson’s political principles differed from his actions while in office. Wilson Inaugural Address made in 1913 provides many important facts that reflect Wilson’s political thought. He said, “We have built up, moreover, a great system of government, which has stood through a long age as in many respects a model for those who seek to set liberty upon foundations that will endure against fortuitous change, against storm and accident” (Wilson, 1913). He wanted to improve commerce of the world based on the just principles of taxation. He planned to use the government as an instrument to promote national interests, improve banking system and industrial system. He proposed to reform political institutions, rejecting the ideas of traditional constitutionalism.

The presidency of Wilson demonstrated different outcomes. Wilson was progressive in his ideas and tried to make some changes in conditions in both the economic and political fields. He referred to historicism. Wilson acted as a reformer. He managed to lower tariffs, improve banking regulation, but failed to break up monopolies. Besides, he led the US into WWI (the Great War) in 1917, despite his peaceful intentions. He passed the Espionage Act and Sedition Act to suppress the opponents of war (Bowles, 2011).

            Thus, it is necessary to conclude that both presidents succeeded in the Progressive era due to their progressive political ideas. The success of Theodore Roosevelt in politics did not influence his political contest at presidential elections of 1912. Woodrow Wilson managed to win, having the highest electoral vote and the majority of the popular vote. Nevertheless, these progressive presidents have very much in common.  Both of them developed policies while in office that differed from their rhetoric on the campaign trail. Both political leaders addressed the problems caused by increased industrialization, urbanization and the growth of big businesses in their political rhetoric, but they used different approaches to solve the problem while in office. Roosevelt placed emphasis on the importance of increased efficiency brought on by big businesses, but highlighted the need to pass legislation against the abuse of power, while Wilson argued that all monopoly was unproductive and wanted to abolish it, promoting small businesses. Undoubtedly, both presidents contributed to the development of the US during the Progressive Era.

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The Role and Impact of Muckraking in Progressive Era Journalism

This essay about muckraking journalism in the Progressive Era highlights its role in exposing corruption and injustice. It discusses the significant contributions of journalists like Upton Sinclair and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who used their investigative skills to reveal harsh realities and inspire reforms. Despite facing criticism, muckrakers played a crucial role in mobilizing public action and shaping American history. Their legacy continues in modern investigative journalism, emphasizing the enduring power of truth and accountability.

How it works

In the rich tapestry of American journalism, the Progressive Era stands out as a dynamic period marked by muckraking, a groundbreaking form of investigative reporting that used words as weapons against corruption and injustice. During this era of social and political upheaval, muckrakers became the champions of truth, bravely navigating the perilous waters of power to expose the dark side of American society.

The early 20th century in the United States was a time of stark contrasts, where the bright facade of progress often hid the harsh realities of exploitation and inequality.

In this context, muckraking journalism emerged as a beacon of hope, shining a light on the nation’s collective conscience. These journalists relentlessly pursued the truth, debunking the myths of prosperity and progress, and revealing the injustices lurking beneath the surface.

Upton Sinclair, a leading figure in the muckraking movement, made a significant impact with his seminal work “The Jungle.” His vivid and damning prose uncovered the horrific conditions faced by immigrant workers in Chicago’s meatpacking plants, sparking national outrage and leading to major reforms in food safety and labor conditions. Sinclair’s legacy as a defender of the oppressed and marginalized was thus firmly established.

However, Sinclair was not alone in this endeavor. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, through her fearless investigations into lynching and racial violence in the Jim Crow South, confronted the deeply entrenched systems of white supremacy and injustice. Her steadfast dedication to uncovering the truth and advocating for racial equality continues to inspire movements today.

Muckraking journalism did more than catalog grievances; it acted as a catalyst for change, forcing the nation to face its flaws and strive for a more just future. Journalists like Lincoln Steffens and David Graham Phillips exposed political corruption and corporate misconduct, peeling back layers of deceit and prompting widespread reforms that transformed the political and economic landscape.

Despite its significant impact, muckraking journalism faced criticism. Detractors labeled muckrakers as sensationalists and accused them of compromising journalistic integrity for scandal. However, such critiques overlook the crucial role muckraking journalism played in challenging the status quo and mobilizing public action.

In the 21st century, the spirit of muckraking journalism endures through the efforts of investigative reporters and citizen journalists who continue to expose injustice and corruption. From revealing government surveillance programs to highlighting corporate wrongdoing and environmental issues, the tradition of muckraking remains a vital force for truth in our interconnected world.

In summary, the muckraking journalism of the Progressive Era left an indelible mark on American history. By fearlessly pursuing truth and justice, muckrakers transformed public discourse and inspired generations to confront injustices threatening society’s fabric. Their legacy underscores the enduring power of journalism to hold the powerful accountable and to inspire collective action toward a more just and equitable world.


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Guest Essay

America’s Military Is Not Prepared for War — or Peace

A photo of U.S. Navy sailors, in silhouette, aboard an aircraft carrier.

By Roger Wicker

Mr. Wicker, a Republican, is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

“To be prepared for war,” George Washington said, “is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” President Ronald Reagan agreed with his forebear’s words, and peace through strength became a theme of his administration. In the past four decades, the American arsenal helped secure that peace, but political neglect has led to its atrophy as other nations’ war machines have kicked into high gear. Most Americans do not realize the specter of great power conflict has risen again.

It is far past time to rebuild America’s military. We can avoid war by preparing for it.

When America’s senior military leaders testify before my colleagues and me on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee behind closed doors, they have said that we face some of the most dangerous global threat environments since World War II. Then, they darken that already unsettling picture by explaining that our armed forces are at risk of being underequipped and outgunned. We struggle to build and maintain ships, our fighter jet fleet is dangerously small, and our military infrastructure is outdated. Meanwhile, America’s adversaries are growing their militaries and getting more aggressive.

In China, the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, has orchestrated a historic military modernization intended to exploit the U.S. military’s weaknesses. He has overtaken the U.S. Navy in fleet size, built one of the world’s largest missile stockpiles and made big advances in space. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has thrown Europe into war and mobilized his society for long-term conflict. Iran and its proxy groups have escalated their shadow war against Israel and increased attacks on U.S. ships and soldiers. And North Korea has disregarded efforts toward arms control negotiations and moved toward wartime readiness.

Worse yet, these governments are materially helping one another, cooperating in new ways to prevent an American-led 21st century. Iran has provided Russia with battlefield drones, and China is sending technical and logistical help to aid Mr. Putin’s war. They are also helping one another prepare for future fights by increasing weapons transfers and to evade sanctions. Their unprecedented coordination makes new global conflict increasingly possible.

That theoretical future could come faster than most Americans think. We may find ourselves in a state of extreme vulnerability in a matter of a few years, according to a growing consensus of experts. Our military readiness could be at its lowest point in decades just as China’s military in particular hits its stride. The U.S. Indo-Pacific commander released what I believe to be the largest list of unfunded items ever for services and combatant commands for next year’s budget, amounting to $11 billion. It requested funding for a raft of infrastructure, missile defense and targeting programs that would prove vital in a Pacific fight. China, on the other hand, has no such problems, as it accumulates the world’s leading hypersonic arsenal with a mix of other lethal cruise and attack missiles.

Our military leaders are being forced to make impossible choices. The Navy is struggling to adequately fund new ships, routine maintenance and munition procurement; it is unable to effectively address all three. We recently signed a deal to sell submarines to Australia, but we’ve failed to sufficiently fund our own submarine industrial base, leaving an aging fleet unprepared to respond to threats. Two of the three most important nuclear modernization programs are underfunded and are at risk of delays. The military faces a backlog of at least $180 billion for basic maintenance, from barracks to training ranges. This projects weakness to our adversaries as we send service members abroad with diminished ability to respond to crises.

Fortunately, we can change course. We can avoid that extreme vulnerability and resurrect American military might.

On Wednesday I am publishing a plan that includes a series of detailed proposals to address this reality head-on. We have been living off the Reagan military buildup for too long; it is time for updates and upgrades. My plan outlines why and how the United States should aim to spend an additional $55 billion on the military in the 2025 fiscal year and grow military spending from a projected 2.9 percent of our national gross domestic product this year to 5 percent over the next five to seven years.

It would be a significant investment that would start a reckoning over our nation’s spending priorities. There will be conversations ahead about all manner of budget questions. We do not need to spend this much indefinitely — but we do need a short-term generational investment to help us prevent another world war.

My blueprint would grow the Navy to 357 ships by 2035 and halt our shrinking Air Force fleet by producing at least 340 additional fighters in five years. This will help patch near-term holes and put each fleet on a sustainable trajectory. The plan would also replenish the Air Force tanker and training fleets, accelerate the modernization of the Army and Marine Corps, and invest in joint capabilities that are all too often forgotten, including logistics and munitions.

The proposal would build on the $3.3 billion in submarine industrial base funding included in the national security supplemental passed in April, so we can bolster our defense and that of our allies. It would also rapidly equip service members all over the world with innovative technologies at scale, from the seabed to the stars.

We should pair increased investment with wiser spending. Combining this crucial investment with fiscal responsibility would funnel resources to the most strategic ends. Emerging technology must play an essential role, and we can build and deploy much of it in less than five years. My road map would also help make improvements to the military procurement system and increase accountability for bureaucrats and companies that fail to perform on vital national security projects.

This whole endeavor would shake our status quo but be far less disruptive and expensive than the alternative. Should China decide to wage war with the United States, the global economy could immediately fall into a depression. Americans have grown far too comfortable under the decades-old presumption of overwhelming military superiority. And that false sense of security has led us to ignore necessary maintenance and made us vulnerable.

Our ability to deter our adversaries can be regained because we have done it before. At the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, in the twilight of the Soviet Union, George H.W. Bush reflected on the lessons of Pearl Harbor. Though the conflict was long gone, it taught him an enduring lesson: “When it comes to national defense,” he said, “finishing second means finishing last.”

Regaining American strength will be expensive. But fighting a war — and worse, losing one — is far more costly. We need to begin a national conversation today on how we achieve a peaceful, prosperous and American-led 21st century. The first step is a generational investment in the U.S. military.

Roger Wicker is the senior U.S. senator from Mississippi and the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Congress aims to overhaul presidential ethics rules with a plan led by an unlikely pair of lawmakers

FILE - House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair Rep. James Comer R-Ky., speaks, Jan. 10, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House would require presidents and vice presidents to publicly disclose tax returns before, during and after their time in the White House. The proposal — led by the unusual pairing of Republican Rep. James Comer and progressive Democratic Rep. Katie Porter — is the latest effort to deliver congressional oversight over presidential ethics as both parties grapple with ongoing congressional probes into their leading candidates for president. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

FILE - House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair Rep. James Comer R-Ky., speaks, Jan. 10, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House would require presidents and vice presidents to publicly disclose tax returns before, during and after their time in the White House. The proposal — led by the unusual pairing of Republican Rep. James Comer and progressive Democratic Rep. Katie Porter — is the latest effort to deliver congressional oversight over presidential ethics as both parties grapple with ongoing congressional probes into their leading candidates for president. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

FILE- Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., speaks during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 8, 2022. Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House would require presidents and vice presidents to publicly disclose tax returns before, during and after their time in the White House. The proposal — led by the unusual pairing of Republican Rep. James Comer and progressive Democratic Rep. Katie Porter — is the latest effort to deliver congressional oversight over presidential ethics as both parties grapple with ongoing congressional probes into their leading candidates for president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File)

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progressive era presidents essay

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House on Wednesday would require presidents and vice presidents to publicly disclose tax returns before, during and after their time in the White House as Congress makes an election-year push to curb foreign influence in American politics.

The proposal, led by the unusual pairing of Republican Rep. James Comer and progressive Democratic Rep. Katie Porter , is the latest effort to bolster congressional oversight of presidential ethics as both parties grapple with congressional investigations into their leading candidates for the White House.

“We both agreed that this was going to be a bill about the future and about restoring trust in government,” Porter told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “It’s not a bill about any past president.”

Democrats on Tuesday introduced rival legislation that would enforce the Constitution’s ban on emoluments, which prohibits a president from accepting foreign gifts and money without the permission of Congress. Proponents of that proposal say Republican Donald Trump brazenly ignored the clause while president as foreign government officials flocked to his various hotels and properties.

The release of the dueling bills suggests bipartisan appetite in Congress for revising presidential ethics rules. But those proposals are intertwined with fiercely partisan fights about the conduct of Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden, and it remains to be seen whether any bill can make it through the House, let alone become law.

Parachutes drop in Carentan-Les-Marais in Normandy, France, Sunday, June 2, 2024, ahead of commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

The White House said in a statement Wednesday that Biden has already complied with many of the provisions laid out in the legislation and “made clear his commitment to upholding strong ethical standards.”

The proposal from Comer, R-Ky., and Porter, D-Calif., is focused on greater transparency and requires the disclosure of foreign payments, gifts and loans made to officials’ immediate family members. Presidents and vice presidents would be required to disclose when immediate family members accompany them on official travel and specify when they do so for official business purposes. The provisions are a direct response to concerns surrounding the business dealings of Trump’s children and Biden’s son.

The approaches by Trump and Biden to financial disclosures have been starkly different. Trump has persistently rejected efforts to share details about his financial history, counter to the practice of transparency followed by all his predecessors in the post-Watergate era. Biden has routinely released his annual returns.

Comer, chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, said the legislation would ensure “that moving forward, American presidents, vice presidents, and their family members cannot profit from their proximity to power.”

“Although we have not needed to develop a full-blown legislative machinery to enforce the Emoluments Clause for more than two centuries, Congress must now enact a law to prevent Presidents from ever again exploiting the presidency for self-enrichment by selling out our government to foreign states,” Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement.

GOP lawmakers, led by Comer, have asserted for the past 17 months that the Biden family has traded on the president’s name by trying to link a handful of phone calls or dinner meetings between Biden, when he was vice president or out of office, and his son Hunter and his business associates.

The committee has released records showing that from 2014 to 2019 several members of the Biden family have received more than $15 million in payments from foreign entities. Additionally, Republicans have criticized a series of loans Democratic donors have given to the president’s family, including more than $6 million that entertainment attorney Kevin Morris has provided to Hunter Biden.

However, Republicans have not been able to produce evidence that shows Joe Biden was directly involved or benefited from his family’s businesses while in public office.

Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee released a report in January that found that Trump’s businesses received nearly $8 million from 20 foreign governments during his presidency.

It outlined how foreign governments and their entities poured millions into various Trump properties, including the Trump International Hotels in Washington and Las Vegas as well as two Trump properties in New York. The payees ranged from China to Saudi Arabia to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Government ethics lawyers condemned Trump’s decision to hold onto his vast business empire after taking office, saying the decision provided ample opportunity for people who want to influence U.S. policy to curry favor with the president.

Trump and his legal team asserted that critics have misinterpreted the emoluments clauses, saying that the framers of the Constitution did not intend for them to cover fair-value transactions between a business and its customers, such as offering a hotel room for the night for payment.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Democrats introduced their proposal on Tuesday, not Monday.


progressive era presidents essay

Trump Convicted of 34 Felony Counts. A New Era of Uncertainty Will Follow.

F ormer President Donald Trump was convicted on all counts in his New York hush-money trial Thursday, opening up an uncertain new era in U.S. politics.

The Manhattan jury found him guilty on 34 counts related to falsifying business records. Sentencing is scheduled for July 11.

This year has already threatened to upend some of the truisms of American public life. Polls show voters reluctant to award credit to the incumbent president for what is, on average, a rising standard of living.

That weakens one of the clearest analytical guides to U.S. politics—the idea that voters reward the leaders who make them materially better off. Now voters have to contend with the fact that the other major party candidate has been convicted of a crime, the first time this has occurred in the runup to a presidential election.

Trump is expected to appeal.

For investors, for whom the biggest question of late might be whether to buy or sell Nvidia, Trump’s conviction may seem secondary. But the difficulty of forecasting the November electoral result, and the sharp policy differences between the two candidates, raises the risk of a political shock in November.

It’s normal for election-year uncertainty to weigh on economic growth. Corporate planners resist making decisions about long-term spending that could be knocked off course if the presidency changes hands, presaging changes in federal policy. Trump’s conviction is likely to turbocharge that effect, because it will be some time before we know how it will play out, and it makes the shape of a potential Trump 2.0 presidency that much more difficult to predict.

Pollsters have for months been trying to determine whether a conviction would represent new information for voters. A Quinnipiac University poll released on May 22 found that 70% of voters were watching news of the trial at least somewhat closely. Just 6% of Trump voters said they would be less likely to vote for him were he convicted, compared to 24% who said they would be more likely.

Is that enough to affect the margin of victory in the handful of battleground states that will determine the election outcome? It’s worth remembering that the prosecution’s theory of the case was that Trump’s team believed his conduct mattered to voters. In the government’s telling, a payoff to adult-film star Stormy Daniels was intended to keep news of Trump’s relationship with her out of public view before November 2016. His public standing had already been damaged by the publication of Access Hollywood tapes that showed disregard for women. (Trump has said the payments to Cohen were for legal services and has denied having an affair with Daniels.)

But voters knew both of those stories by 2020, when Trump lost by narrow margins. And even as the trial unfolded, putting ugly stories about his conduct on front pages almost daily for weeks, Trump has edged ahead in national polling.

Part of the problem here may simply be that national opinion polling is a weak guide to how voters will react in November, especially this early.

And that, in turn, is because it’s too much to ask to try to process four years of change in the lives of hundreds of millions of citizens through the lens of one yes or no decision in November. Though of course we still do it.

CBS’s John Dickerson laid out what he called the the impossibility of the presidency in 2018. “We are a president-obsessed nation, so much so that we undermine the very idea of our constitutional democracy,” he wrote. It’s literally impossible—physically, mentally, logistically—for one human being to take on all the tasks demanded of a president. “No one man—or woman—can possibly represent the varied, competing interests of 327 million citizens,” Dickerson wrote. (It’s 337 million now.)

Some people surely see their vote as a moral endorsement of an individual. The left-wing voters threatening to abandon President Biden over his support for Israel are acting that way.

But in a more literal sense, a vote for president means much more than assigning sleeping rights to the Lincoln Bedroom. The presidency brings with it command of the military, control of administrative agencies, nominations for judgeships, countless regulatory powers, and much more. Victory also affirms our social loyalties—we all want to root for the winning team.

In that sense it’s easy to see how voters can back a damaged candidate. And that’s leaving aside the virulent beliefs Trump has promoted that the result in court was the result of a politically driven witch hunt. There’s also the very real possibility that an appeal will change the outcome. Anyone who believes in the strength of the U.S. legal system needs to account for the chance that it can get things wrong in good faith, too.

None of that is to say that this conviction means Trump will win the presidency—or lose it. That’s still up in the air. It will take consistent polling showing a decisive move in one direction or the other to enable a clearer analytical judgment, and realistically that won’t come until much closer to Nov. 5.

But that’s not to say it’s unimportant, either. Should Trump lose, some portion of the electorate will believe it’s because political elites closed ranks against him. What happens to that angry energy in our calcified political system is difficult to judge, though it’s easy to see where the points of stress are. Congress has barely functioned this year, and flirted with debt default. That dynamic isn’t likely to improve if voters continue supporting rejectionist candidates.

And what if he wins? The rule of law underpins the health of markets and the glorious returns they’ve delivered in recent years. The S&P 500 is comprised of profit-generating machines that have managed to thrive in difficult environments, and they won’t be easily knocked off course. A president who believes the legal system has been weaponized against him could test U.S. companies’ ability to thrive, though, again those effects may not materialize immediately.

That, in the end, is the bottom line. A decisive moment for Trump’s legal issues may turn out to be anything but certain for the broader political system and the economy.

Write to Matt Peterson at [email protected]

Trump Convicted of  34 Felony Counts. A New Era of Uncertainty Will Follow.


  1. Progressive Presidents Essays

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  2. K. The Progressive Presidents

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  3. Essay on The Progressive Presidents

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  4. The Progressive Era Presidents.pdf

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  2. The Progressive Presidents

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  3. The Progressive Era

    The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Progressive movement was a political and social-reform movement that brought major changes to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, known as the Progressive Era, the movement's goals involved strengthening the national government and addressing people ...

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    Progressive Era reformers sought to harness the power of the federal government to eliminate unethical and unfair business practices, reduce corruption, and counteract the negative social effects of industrialization. During the Progressive Era, protections for workers and consumers were strengthened, and women finally achieved the right to vote.

  5. Theodore Roosevelt: Impact and Legacy

    Theodore Roosevelt: Impact and Legacy. Theodore Roosevelt is widely regarded as the first modern President of the United States. The stature and influence that the office has today began to develop with TR. Throughout the second half of the 1800s, Congress had been the most powerful branch of government. And although the presidency began to ...

  6. Progressive Presidents: Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson

    Explore the dynamic era of Progressive Presidents Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson in this 3,000-word essay, dissecting their policies and impact on American history. Introduction The Progressive Era in American history, spanning roughly from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, was a period of significant social, political, and economic ...

  7. Progressive Era

    The Progressive Era (1896-1917) was a period in the United States during the early 20th century of widespread social activism and political reform across the country. [1] [2] Progressives sought to address the problems caused by rapid industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption as well as the enormous concentration ...

  8. United States

    Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton University, who had made a brilliant progressive record as governor of New Jersey, was nominated by the Democrats on the 46th ballot. Taft's single objective in the 1912 campaign was to defeat Roosevelt. The real contest was between Roosevelt and Wilson for control of the Progressive majority.

  9. Progressives and Progressivism in an Era of Reform

    Michael Les Benedict, "Law and Regulation in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era," in Law as Culture and Culture as Law: Essays in Honor of John Philip Reid, ed. Hendrick Hartog and William E. Nelson (Madison, WI: Madison House Publishers, 2000), 227-263; Christopher L. Tomlins, The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law, and the ...

  10. United States

    The Progressive era The character and variety of the Progressive movement. The inauguration of Pres. William McKinley in 1897 had seemed to mark the end of an era of domestic turmoil and the beginning of a new period of unparalleled tranquility. Prosperity was returning after the devastating panic of 1893. The agrarian uprising led by Bryan in the election of 1896 had been turned back, and the ...

  11. PDF AP United States History

    The Progressive Era image above depicts President Theodore Roosevelt. Using the image, answer (a), (b), and (c). a) Briefly describe ONE perspective expressed by the artist about the role of government in society. b) Briefly explain how ONE event or devel opment led to the historical situation depicted in the image.

  12. Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929

    Cities During the Progressive Era In the early 1900s, the United States entered a period of peace, prosperity, and progress. In the nation's growing cities, factory output grew, small businesses flourished, and incomes rose.

  13. The Progressive Presidents: Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson

    The era of the Progressive presidents produced a number of notable achievements. Trust-busting forced industrialists and monopolistic corporations to consider public opinion when making business decisions. This benefited the consumer and helped grow the economy. The Progressive presidents also increased consumers' rights by limiting corporate ...

  14. The Progressive Era

    It was ratified in 1913, and Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1913 that same year. With a progressive income tax (where those who produce more pay more), the national government could now take wealth from some who had more and redistribute it to others who had less. President Woodrow Wilson, a leading Progressive in the early twentieth century.

  15. Progressive Era Politics

    Progressive Era Politics. "It would be an irony of fate, if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.". Wilson's Presidency both overlapped with and was in many ways definitive of the politics of the Progressive Era (approx. 1890-1920). The term "Progressive" was broadly defined, encompassing a wide array of policies ...

  16. Essay on The Progressive Presidents

    Essay on The Progressive Presidents. ... Thus, it is necessary to conclude that both presidents succeeded in the Progressive era due to their progressive political ideas. The success of Theodore Roosevelt in politics did not influence his political contest at presidential elections of 1912. Woodrow Wilson managed to win, having the highest ...

  17. Navigating Change: The Presidents of the Progressive Era

    Essay Sample: The Progressive Era, a period roughly spanning from the 1890s to the 1920s in the United States, was a time of dynamic social and political change. Amidst ... In retrospect, the Progressive Era presidents helped to redefine the role of the presidency and the federal government, setting precedents for the increased regulatory and ...

  18. Progressivism

    progressivism, in the United States, political and social-reform movement that brought major changes to American politics and government during the first two decades of the 20th century.. Historical context. Progressive reformers made the first comprehensive effort within the American context to address the problems that arose with the emergence of a modern urban and industrial society.

  19. Theodore Roosevelt's Leadership and Reforms in the Progressive Era

    Essay Example: Theodore Roosevelt's time as the 26th President of the United States stands as a pivotal chapter in American history, especially regarding leadership and progressive reforms. Ascending to the presidency in 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt's administration

  20. What is a thesis statement about the Progressive Era?

    Expert Answers. The Progressive Era (1890-1920) brought about unprecedented change in the economic, political, and social lives of Americans. These changes were needed because of the rapid ...

  21. Progressive Presidents During The Progressive Era

    All of the progressive presidents were essential during the Progressive era, however, I believe President Taft to have had the greatest effect on conditions for American people. First, President Taft was able to declare an 8-hour workday for government employees, which many had been long anticipating.

  22. The Role and Impact of Muckraking in Progressive Era Journalism

    This essay about muckraking journalism in the Progressive Era highlights its role in exposing corruption and injustice. It discusses the significant contributions of journalists like Upton Sinclair and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who used their investigative skills to reveal harsh realities and inspire reforms.

  23. Opinion

    America's Military Is Not Prepared for War — or Peace. Mr. Wicker, a Republican, is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. "To be prepared for war," George ...

  24. Republican James Comer and progressive Katie Porter push overhaul of

    Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House would require presidents and vice presidents to publicly disclose tax returns before, during and after their time in the White House. ... The proposal — led by the unusual pairing of Republican Rep. James Comer and progressive Democratic Rep. Katie Porter — is the latest effort to deliver ...

  25. Trump Convicted of 34 Felony Counts. A New Era of Uncertainty ...

    Former President Donald Trump was convicted on all counts in his New York hush-money trial Thursday, opening up an uncertain new era in U.S. politics. The Manhattan jury found him guilty on 34 ...